Pain itself is a pretty broad topic. From acute pain to chronic pain, many people in the United States are affected by it. Certain types of pain are easy to diagnose and treat while others still remain a big medical mystery. The scientific and medical communities are always continuously researching pain to learn what they can about how it affects us and alters our bodies.

It is currently believed that chronic pain affects more than 100 million people in the U.S. This is significantly more than diabetes, which affects just over 25 million people.

Let’s take a look at some of the most recent studies into the science and treatment of pain.

1. The emotional toll of pain

The scientists at Technische Universitaet Muenchen have determined that within seconds of feeling pain, your body stops processing it at a sensory level and switches to emotion. In their experiments they discovered that the longer pain continued for the research participants, the more subjective their pain became. While the initial reaction to pain is purely perceptive, when the pain continues the brain processes it in a more emotional way, which could explain some of the long-term consequences of chronic pain conditions, such as depression and anxiety. In fact, the same pain stimuli caused different reactions with the second or third experience. This could be a small step on the way to understanding how to treat some pain conditions.

2. The memory of pain

The University of Bern also made some interesting discoveries into the way our brains remember pain. The researchers observed a change at the cellular level in the brains of mice that could contribute to chronic pain. The way pain is received by electrical impulses in the neurons can be an indicator of how pain is perceived by the body. They found that these neurons were more active in the Gyrus Cinguli. There was also change in a specific ion channel that helps determine the electrical properties of these cells. This means that there were an increased number of impulses in these nerves and, as a result, an increased perception of pain.

3. The words of pain

The brain is a funny thing, and no matter how much we research its mechanics, there are aspects that remain a complete mystery. A study at York University used eye-tracking technology to determine how people gathered information while experiencing pain. For people suffering from chronic pain, words related to their experience drew more attention than non-pain related words. Words such as agony, distress, and ache were focused on for longer than others. They believe that people with chronic pain focus more on these aspects which may create what the researchers call attentional bias.

4. Long-term effects of blocking inflammation

The University of Cambridge decided to take a closer look at the way we currently use blocking techniques to stop inflammation when it comes to treating chronic pain. Inflammation may play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease so reviewing whether or not medications that block the natural response are creating other problems is a big concern. While inflammation has protective qualities it is known that too much of it will result in damage. Many drugs reduce inflammation by blocking the pathways for Interleukin-1. The risk of heart attack was 15% higher in individuals who were given medications to block these pathways. Of course, the connection between inflammation, drugs that block it, and heart disease are much more complicated and the results of the study indicate that more research is needed.

5. Reducing pain medications

Of course, many pain conditions are treated with a variety of medications, some of which can cause other additional complications. A study by the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Technology of the University of Valencia determined that new ways of treating chronic pain could reduce the reliance on many of the more complex drugs. They found that a small potassium channel is fundamental in regulating the way the neurons in the spinal cord react to excitable stimuli. When these neurons are overactive they send more pain signals to the brain. The researchers believe that recognizing how these channels work in the body could help alter the way we treat chronic pain and reduce the reliance on dangerous drugs or overprescribing.

6. Rapid detection of drug use

Of course, because of the prevalence of drug misuse and abuse for patients who have trouble regulating their chronic pain conditions, it is imperative that the medical community discover new ways not only to treat pain safely but also detect the use of these drugs. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University developed a new screening method that will detect four of the most commonly misused drugs-of-abuse; ketamine, methamphetamine, MDMA, and cocaine. This drug analysis technique can help determine issues of drug abuse faster to help patients who self-medicate get the treatment they need quickly and efficiently. The method also reduces the instances of receiving false positive or negative results that was the case with previous drug tests.

Continued research into pain management and solutions

Research is happening every day that can help the medical community better serve their patients dealing with pain at all levels. We believe that a combined approach is best and advocate not only reviewing the medical aspects of pain treatment but to explore other options as well. Holistic medicine is designed to treat the mind, body, and spirit so we take into account the emotional aspects of pain as well as the physical.

Do you read about the latest research on pain? What can you share with us and our readers?

Image by Allan Ajifo via Flickr

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