Chronic pain is generally classified as any pain that lasts more than 3 months. There are a number of conditions that can result in chronic pain. Occasionally an injury can heal incorrectly and become chronic. Other conditions, such as degenerative diseases, will cause pain that is difficult to treat and considered chronic.

Some of the varieties of chronic conditions include:

  • Hip bursitis
  • Lower back pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Migraine headaches
  • Knee pain
  • Fibromyalgia

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, over 100 million people in the United States suffer from chronic pain. What if we could find a treatment method for blocking pain?

The average cost of chronic pain can be over $600 billion per year which includes the costs of treatment, workers compensation, lost work, and more. Pain can affect individuals of any age, race, gender, or economic class. Because pain is largely subjective, it may be more difficult to quantify the real numbers of individuals dealing with chronic pain conditions in the U.S.

However, chronic pain has the capacity to affect a patient’s quality of life in a number of ways. Debilitating pain on its own can limit someone’s ability to function normally day-to-day but chronic pain is also known to affect mental health as well. Chronic pain, whether treated or untreated, can cause depression in many people. It can diminish a patient’s self-worth and cause them to underperform at work, withdraw from relationships, and contribute to a sense of isolation and loneliness. Chronic pain can also cause fatigue, making daily activities much more difficult. However, there are a number of lifestyle changes, treatments, and therapies that can help patients cope with all of the aspects of their conditions.

How do we treat chronic pain?

For treatments that only relate to the alleviation or recovery of painful conditions, many doctors turn to nerve blocks. These procedures are performed by injecting anesthetic medication directly into the affected nerves. There are multiple currently available nerve block treatments that can aid in the recovery of patients dealing with chronic pain by blocking pain.

These include:

  • Celiac plexus block
  • Cluneal nerve block
  • Coccygeal nerve block
  • Ganglion impar block
  • Hardware block
  • Lumbar facet block
  • Medial branch block
  • Occipital nerve block
  • Sciatic nerve block
  • Stellate ganglion block
  • Sympathetic block

Each of these procedures targets a different area of the body based on the specific needs of each patient. These are interventional procedures that do involve invasive measures. The recovery time will depend largely on the patient and the condition being targeted.

Many other treatment solutions exist that have a variety of side effects and drawbacks. Some medications have an inherent risk of addiction while surgical solutions can lead to complications after the procedure. Specialists also often recommend alternative treatments to help relieve pain and restore a sense of balance and well-being to patients. These may include physical therapy, acupuncture, yoga, or biofeedback training.

However, new research has emerged that indicates blocking pain receptors in the body may not only decrease the instances of chronic pain but can also enhance longevity in patients receiving these treatments.

Can blocking pain lead to longevity?

In May of 2014, researchers at the University of California Berkeley released a study that showed how blocking pain could lead to a longer life span.

It is known that chronic pain can shorten our lifespans for a variety of reasons and that pain tends to increase as we age. The researchers believed that there may be a correlation between pain and longevity. They discovered mice that lacked the capsaicin pain receptor lived approximately 14% longer than other mice. These mice even maintained a more youthful metabolism. Not only could receptor blocks alleviate pain but they may also help us live longer and improve our metabolisms. These mice also had an improved insulin response that allowed them to deal with high blood sugar, which could change the way we approach diabetes and obesity in older adults.

Capsaicin is the compound found in hot peppers that make them spicy. Different types of peppers have different levels of capsaicin that influence how hot they are when we taste them. This is measured by Scoville units. A green bell pepper, for instance, is much lower on the scale than a ghost pepper. Our bodies are equipped with receptors for capsaicin, which are what cause us to have a pain reaction to the taste of these peppers. The hotter the pepper and the lower your tolerance, the greater your pain reaction and sweating responses will be.

Blocking this specific receptor in mice reduced their pain, lengthened their life, and increased their metabolism. Andrew Dillin, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and senior author of the paper said:

“We think that blocking this pain receptor and pathway could be very, very useful not only for relieving pain, but for improving lifespan and metabolic health, and in particular for treating diabetes and obesity in humans. As humans age they report a higher incidence of pain, suggesting that pain might drive the aging process.”

Based on this research, it seems that blocking pain by targeting this specific receptor could lead to a decrease in pain caused by a number of chronic conditions. This will allow individuals dealing with the effects of chronic pain to recover some of their quality of life and live longer and healthier. The study is not yet conclusive and researchers have a lot more work to do before anything is definitive for human medicine, but the results are promising. According to the study, an anti-migraine drug that is already on the market can aid in the blocking of these receptors and have additional benefits for patients using it.

These advancements in medical research go a long way toward our ability to better understand the underlying causes of chronic pain conditions and may lead to revolutionary new treatments for blocking pain in the future.

Would you be interested in treatments for blocking pain that also led to a longer, healthier life?

Image by Andrew Moore via Flickr

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