Botox is usually associated with cosmetic treatment to combat wrinkles, but it also has several different uses other areas of medicine. In fact, Botox currently has more than 20 different medical applications, and it’s being studied as a treatment for conditions like depression and stomach cancer. Injections of Botox can even treat certain kinds of pain, particularly nerve-related pain.
Botox injections contain a very low dose of a naturally-occurring toxin called botulinum.
Botulinum is the same toxin that can lead to botulism, a type of food poisoning that can cause paralysis. It’s because of its paralytic properties that botulinum toxin, in the form of injected Botox, is used to reduce wrinkles and fine lines. Medical News Today explains how Botox injections work, stating:
“Botulinum toxin can be injected into humans in extremely small concentrations and works by preventing signals from the nerve cells reaching muscles, effectively leaving the muscles without instructions to contract, therefore paralyzing them… The effect of botulinum toxin causes a reduction in abnormal muscle contraction allowing the muscles to become less stiff.”
In addition to its use for cosmetic reduction of fine lines and wrinkles, Botox can be utilized to help people with serious conditions like paralysis or nerve conditions in the face. For instance, children with partial facial paralysis might get Botox injections on the non-paralyzed side of their faces to improve face symmetry. People with nerve conditions in the face can experience facial spasms, but a Botox injection can block transmissions along the nerves, stopping the spasms.
Because Botox can block signals along nerves, it can be a highly useful tool when treating certain nerve-related pain conditions.
Botox is particularly effective at reducing nerve-related pain, but in many pain conditions there may be more than just one reason for the pain. For example, an injury to the spine can cause both nerve pain and painful muscle spasms. In cases like this, Botox injections can be extremely useful. The Botox can block pain signals from the affected nerves while also stopping the muscle spasm.
There are also multiple types of nerve-related pain conditions. Some conditions are restricted to just one nerve. These types of conditions are often the result of some sort of trauma or injury, like a car accident or repetitive-stress injury. Other conditions might affect many different nerves throughout the body. Some cancer-fighting drugs, for example, can cause painful nerve damage all over the body.
A study at the University of California San Diego considered both of these different types of nerve pain. It was found that Botox can provide pain relief from both single-nerve and multiple-nerve pain conditions (also called mononeuropathy and polyneuropathy, respectively).
Botox injections provide a viable treatment option for many other pain conditions, too.
Certain types of headaches often respond well to treatment with Botox. Specifically, people with headaches that feel tight or crushing, or migraines in the neck or forehead, tend to experience significant pain relief.
One recent study was able to break down which specific types of headaches might be responsive to Botox treatment. Researchers found that the frequency of chronic migraine and chronic daily headaches can be improved with Botox. However, the frequency of episodic migraine, chronic tension-type, and episodic tension-type headaches might not be improved.
Botox might also treat help treat chronic muscular pain. Researchers have found that Botox injections significantly reduced myofascial (soft tissue or muscle) pain in the neck and shoulders, probably because of Botox’s ability to reduce muscle spasms. The pain reduction in the neck and shoulders led to fewer and less severe headaches. An overall improvement in quality of life was also reported, largely thanks to less interruption of daily activities by pain.
In some cases, there is even evidence that Botox might work better than some of the best-established treatments. Plantar fasciitis, for example, is often treated with injected steroids. However, a study in Mexico found that patients who received Botox injections recovered more quickly than those who received steroid injections.
Botox as pain control has pros and cons, just like any other treatment.
One of the most significant benefits of Botox treatment is its longevity compared to many common treatments. Whereas oral medications like anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants typically last for a few hours, a Botox injection can provide pain relief for weeks.
The procedure for Botox injections is also a big plus. While Botox injections should always be performed by an experienced professional, they are truly as simple as any other injection. The procedure is quick and relatively non-invasive, and patients are able to leave very soon afterwards.
Botox injections also have a couple downfalls, though. First, while a Botox injection might last longer than some treatments, it lasts a significantly shorter amount of time than others. Treatments like nerve block injections or radiofrequency ablation might last quite a bit longer than Botox injections. For a long-term recovery or a chronic pain condition, it might be necessary to get more Botox injections every two to six weeks, depending on your physician’s assessment.
Botox might be an expensive treatment in some cases, too. A small bottle of Botox can cost a few hundred dollars. When used for cosmetic purposes, particularly, insurance likely won’t cover Botox injections, so payment will have to be out-of-pocket. If you’re considering Botox injections for pain control, though, be sure you get in touch with your insurance carrier. Make it clear that you’re not undergoing the injections for cosmetic purposes.
Have you ever benefitted from Botox injections for nerve pain?
Image by Jill Brown via Flickr