5 Great Strides Being Made in the Field of Health Science for Chronic Pain Management
Managing chronic pain is one of the major challenges faced by millions of people every day. Many face the unfortunate possibility that they may spend the rest of their lives dealing with the same pain day in and day out.
Despite limited success in the past, health science is making strides towards improving the lives of these patients. Far from just providing support groups or drugs to dull pain, many therapies are now focused on eliminating the sources.
In cases such as fibromyalgia, fMRI has allowed an association between abnormal nervous signals and pain. And although this information might seem increasingly obvious to even the lay person, it’s important to realize that the fields of neurology and MRI-based radiology have only existed for a few decades.
Yet while neurology is still a young field, its results are promising. Understanding that the central nervous system and not the peripheral sensory nerves may actually be generating pain signals means we can expect to see more treatments focused on helping retrain the brain rather than on just trying to find where pain is being sent to the brain.
Chiropractic Adjustments Alter Nervous Signals
Advances in the chiropractic field alongside neurology have demonstrated spinal manipulative therapy can alter nerve impulses. Despite the rocky relationship between the chiropractic and the conventional medical world, this new research is demonstrating that low force, high amplitude thrusts delivered on a specific vector do more than just move bones into place.
The true effects are only just beginning to be explained by recent research. In particular, the modulation of nervous tone produces an inhibitory effect on pain and may help readjust abnormal sensation in patients suffering from chronic conditions.
At a minimum, it merits further investigation and is likely to continue fostering a closer relationship between the once very polarized professions, much to the benefit of their shared patients.
Stimulation of the Dorsal Root Ganglion Helps Inhibit Pain
Updates to a type of electrical stimulation once used on the dorsal column have made the process more effective. Electricity is applied to the root rather than the column, affecting cell bodies directly instead of axons.
The importance of the change is not to be underestimated. Signaling to axons only has an effect on select neuronal bodies, while targeting the housing of sensory neurons serves to produce a much more comprehensive effect.
Like the chiropractic adjustment, the goal of DRG stimulation is to provide alternative stimulation that overrides pain signals. This may prove to be a crucial element in treatment as several chronic pain conditions involve suffering without the presence of injury or infection.
Recent studies show some support for radiofrequency ablation in short-circuiting the pain response. This type of treatment could prove effective from sufferers of unexplained chronic pains such as trigeminal neuralgia, which until this point have been devoid of any serious management.
You may have noticed a trend in therapies that focus on altering nervous tone or signaling; this is no accident, as multiple different fields are simultaneously discovering treatments based on the same principles.
Sufferers of the above condition (trigeminal neuralgia) stand to benefit the most from these treatments, as the previous therapies available often ended in removal of the nerve in its entirety (note that removing the trigeminal nerve will remove pain from the face but also result in loss of sensation and in some cases difficulty or inability to control jaw muscles).
Use of the drug Naltrexone in small doses is being studied for use as an anti-inflammatory drug. It’s no secret that chronic inflammation can cause a number of problems, including pain as a result of pressure put on tissues, loss of function and in some cases cancer.
Chronic pain syndromes targeted include fibromyalgia, MS, Crohn’s disease and complex regional pain syndrome. Research thus far is promising, with few if any side-effects noted and no risk of dependency.
Low-dose naltrexone (sometimes called LDN) is one of the rare cases where medication may actually be effective in demonstrating a “cure” to conditions. The most likely explanation for its effectiveness seems to be in stimulating more appropriate immune responses in addition to strengthening them.
Notably, LDN treatments are also very low cost to the patient and require little maintenance. This is one benefit it may prove to have over some of the other treatments, particularly ablation therapy and fMRI diagnosis (both of which can be very expensive and require special equipment).
Electric stimulation and chiropractic treatments also fall into the relatively lower cost category.
Toward a Better tomorrow
No one enjoys being in pain most of the time. It’s the single easiest pathway towards depression, decreased quality of life and in the worst cases, suicide. It costs us billions of dollars annually and it’s something we’ll all experience in different degrees.
However, health science as a combined discipline hopes to offer relief to pain sufferers through a mixture of traditional western medicine as well as CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). Doctors and scientists are working day and night to find the best solutions to our pain problems and we can expect to see a better tomorrow as a result.
Though for some it may still be a rough road ahead, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Together, we can beat pain; will you be along for the ride? Share with us your own story in the comments.
About the Author: Diamond is a healthcare advocate and technology specialist for eHealth Informer. She writes on a multitude of different topics, from how we can use nutrition to better our lives to how technology can create new solutions to solve timeless problems.