The biggest stories in chronic pain research from the first part of 2017 have questioned our assumptions about pain medications, looked at how our spouses affect our pain levels, and more. Read on to learn more about the top pain research stories from the first half of 2017. With such a wide range of discoveries, we’re already looking forward to what the second half of 2017 uncovers.

Chronic pain research into treatments, new and old

For all chronic pain patients, finding a treatment that works is so important. In the first part of 2017, researchers released studies about a number of cutting-edge therapies that could one day be used to treat pain. And, some even took a look back at an ancient technique with modern applications.

Here Are The 15 Top Stories In 2017 Chronic Pain Research, So Far |

1. Cutting-edge CRISPR technology could prevent tissue damage 

Researchers recently discovered a possible way to prevent chronic pain, by modulating the very genes that reduce tissue- and cell-damaging inflammation. They believe it could be particularly helpful for those with arthritis, lupus, or other inflammatory diseases. The research team is using CRISPR, a technology for modifying genes, to keep cells from producing damaging molecules. University of Utah bioengineering assistant professor Robby Bowles explains:

“So they won’t respond to inflammation. It disrupts this chronic inflammation pattern that leads to tissue degeneration and pain. We’re not changing what is in your genetic code. We’re altering what is expressed. Normally, cells do this themselves, but we are taking engineering control over these cells to tell them what to turn on and turn off.”

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2. Could light therapy help relieve pain?

Researchers at the University of Arizona may have found a promising new therapy for managing chronic pain, treating it with green light-emitting diodes (LED). This therapy could reduce a patient’s reliance on medication, allow them more tolerance for temperature changes and touch sensations, and could provide an ongoing form of inexpensive pain management.

Mohab Ibrahim, UA assistant professor of Anesthesiology and Pharmacology and lead author of the study, noted that:

“Pain physicians are trained to manage chronic pain in several ways including medication and interventional procedures in a multimodal approach. Opioids, while having many benefits for managing pain, come with serious side effects. We need safer, effective and affordable approaches, used in conjunction with our current tools, to manage chronic pain. While the results of the green LED are still preliminary, it holds significant promise to manage some types of chronic pain.”

Read more: You can also find out more about similar red light therapy here.

3. Acupuncture boosts effectiveness of care for chronic pain 

In a report from the National Institute for Health Research, researchers compared patients who received standard medical care along with acupuncture, against those who only received standard medical care (such as medications or physical therapy). They looked specifically at patients with chronic neck, back, head, and knee pain. A press release from the University of York reported that:

“The report shows that the addition of acupuncture compared to standard medical care alone significantly reduced the number of headaches and migraine attacks and reduced the severity of neck and lower back pain.  It also showed that acupuncture reduced the pain and disability of osteoarthritis, which led to patients being less reliant on anti-inflammatory tablets to control pain.”

Read more: You can also find out more about acupuncture here.

4. Jump into virtual reality to reduce pain 

Can a virtual world provide real pain relief? That’s the finding of a study in PLoS One that looked at virtual reality for hip and spine pain patients. Using a VR headset, these patients:

“All spent five minutes exploring a 360-degree fantasy landscape with ‘trees, hills, snow scenes, caves, flames and otters.’ On average, their pain level dropped by 60 percent while in this virtual world. When they returned to the real world, it was still down by 33 percent—a reduction roughly equivalent to a dose of morphine.”

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2017 research into pain medications 

While many chronic pain researchers are discovering new forms of treatments, others are looking at the traditional medications and techniques we’re using for patients today. And what they found is shocking.

Here Are The 15 Top Stories In 2017 Chronic Pain Research, So Far |

5. Could less opioids actually lead to less pain? 

Researchers at University of Virginia believe so. In a study of 100,000 surgical cases, they actually found that their patients’ pain levels improved as doctors prescribed fewer opioid medications. During the study timeframe, doctors prescribed 37% less opioids per surgery. At the same time, patient’s pain scores improved 31%. Dr. Marcel Durieux, one of the anesthesiologists who conducted the study, noted that:

“There is very clear evidence that people can become opioid-dependent because of the drugs they get during and after surgery. I think that by substantially limiting opioids during surgery, we’ve made an important step in addressing that problem.”

Read more: You can also find out more about opioids here.

6. Women’s perception of pain different from men 

A 2017 study from Georgia State University found that: “when microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells, were blocked, female response to opioid pain medication improved and matched the levels of pain relief normally seen in males.”

This could help explain a number of things. Foremost among those is why women require more opioids to achieve the same pain relief as men. And, it could go some way to explaining why more women suffer with inflammatory pain conditions like fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.

Read more: Find out more about fibromyalgia here.

7. Tiny marine snail offers alternative to opioids for pain relief

Chronic pain research is always focused on finding better treatments for patients, especially alternatives to opioids. Researchers from the University of Utah may have found an option, in the unlikeliest of places: a Caribbean marine snail.

The study found that a compound from the snail’s venom acted on a pain pathway, but one that was different from those targeted by opioids. This venom blocked pain receptors, provided long-lasting pain relief up to 72 hours, and may even have a restorative effect on damaged components in our nervous system.

Michael McIntosh, professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah Health Sciences, notes:

“What is particularly exciting about these results is the aspect of prevention. Once chronic pain has developed, it is difficult to treat. This compound offers a potential new pathway to prevent chronic pain from developing in the first place and also offers a new therapy to patients with established pain who have run out of options.”

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8. A new (and better) way to create opioids? 

Researchers from Charité — Universitätsmedizin Berlin believe they’ve discovered a new way to create opioid-like painkillers that reduce severe side effects. Study authors, Dr. Viola Spahn and Dr. Giovanna Del Vecchio, report that:

“In contrast to conventional opioids, our NFEPP-prototype appears to only bind to, and activate, opioid receptors in an acidic environment. This means it produces pain relief only in injured tissues, and without causing respiratory depression, drowsiness, the risk of dependency, or constipation.”

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9. Common pain medications are not very effective 

Many pain patients use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, to treat pain. However, new research from The Georgia Institute for Global Health found that only one in six patients taking these pills achieved any significant pain relief.  Prof Ferreira, Senior Research Fellow at The George Institute and at the Institute of Bone and Joint Research, said:

“Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is commonly managed by prescribing medicines such as anti-inflammatories. But our results show anti-inflammatory drugs actually only provide very limited short term pain relief. They do reduce the level of pain, but only very slightly, and arguably not of any clinical significance.”

Read more: Find out more about back pain here.

Chronic pain management starts at home 

Chronic pain research into new technologies and treatments is important, but in the first part of 2017, many researchers also looked at what we can be doing at home and in our relationships to reduce pain.

Here Are The 15 Top Stories In 2017 Chronic Pain Research, So Far |

10. Vitamin D could help with chronic pain and insomnia

A study in the Journal of Endocrinology suggested that a proper amount of vitamin could affect the body’s inflammatory response, which alters pain sensations. They found that it could help with:

  • Menstrual cramps
  • Back pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Sleep disorders
  • Arthritis

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11. Can staying active prevent chronic pain in older adults? 

In the leading journal Pain, a new study showed that older adults with higher levels of physical activity may actually be lowering their risk for developing chronic pain. These active adults had a lower pain perception and were better able to block their responses to painful stimuli.

Researchers noted that:

“Older adults who did more moderate to vigorous physical activity perceived less facilitation of pain, while those who did at least some activity were better able to block pain perceptions. These differences may be relevant to the ‘central sensitization’ process believed to be responsible for the transition from acute to chronic pain.”

Read more: You can also learn more about exercising with chronic pain here.

12. Acceptance and commitment therapy for chronic pain study

Cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT, is the most frequently-used therapy intervention for chronic pain patients. And, incorporating this treatment with the psychological flexibility model and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) could help improve patient outcomes.

Co-author Lance M. McCracken, Professor of Behavioral Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, Kings College London noted:

“Greater psychological flexibility is associated with less pain-related anxiety and avoidance, less depression, less physical and psycho-social disability and other measures of patient function. Based on studies of forms of CBT that did not include ACT, acceptance of pain, one component of psychological flexibility, may be a general mechanism by which CBT treatments achieve improvements in functioning, and more specific targeting of pain-related acceptance may lead to further improvement in CBT outcomes.”

Read more: You can also learn more about chronic pain’s effect on your mental health here.

13. Bookworms rejoice: reading can help with chronic pain

A partnership with the University of Liverpool, the Royal Liverpool University Hospitals Trust, The Reader, as well as the British Academy, found that a form of “shared reading” could also be a useful therapy for chronic pain patients.

“Shared Reading is used in a range of environments that have similarities with chronic pain, in that the conditions involved can often be chronic and unsolvable, as in the case of dementia, prisons (people locked in, life halted and future inevitably affected by baggage of past), and severe mental illness (with recurring episodes). The model is based on small groups (2–12 people) coming together weekly to read literature – short stories, novels and poetry – together aloud. The reading material ranges across genres and period, and is chosen for its intrinsic interest, not pre-selected with a particular ‘condition’ in mind.”

In particular, researcher Dr. Josie Billington notes that the study indicates that this type of shared reading was comparable to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for chronic pain. It even encouraged a longer-term confrontation and tolerance of emotional difficulties compared to CBT.

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14. Better sleep, and altertness, manages pain better than analgesics 

Research from the Boston Children’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center shows that a chronic loss of sleep increases your pain sensitivity. The study goes on to suggest that getting more sleep could improve pain, as could using caffeine or other stimulants to improve wakefulness. Both of these performed better than treatment with standard analgesics. Kiran Maski, MD, a specialist in sleep disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, notes that:

“Many patients with chronic pain suffer from poor sleep and daytime fatigue, and some pain medications themselves can contribute to these co-morbidities. This study suggests a novel approach to pain management that would be relatively easy to implement in clinical care. Clinical research is needed to understand what sleep duration is required and to test the efficacy of wake-promoting medications in chronic pain patients.”

Read more: You can also learn how you can get better sleep with chronic pain here.

15. Could your relationship with your spouse affect your pain? 

In a study published in Psychological Science, researchers say yes. They found that a chronic pain patient’s daily interactions with their spouse could actually influence whether their physical functioning improved over time. Ohio State researcher Stephanie J. Wilson, lead author on the study, explains that:

“We found that osteoarthritis patients whose spouses were more empathically responsive in daily interactions fared better in terms of their physical function than patients whose spouses were less responsive. Their performance on an objective test improved over time: They were better able to stand from a chair unassisted, maintained better balance, and could walk more quickly. Other research suggests that people who perform better on these tasks also are more likely to remain independent and to live longer. Thus, our findings have direct clinical implications for chronic pain patients.”

Read more: You can also click to learn more about caring for a person with chronic pain.

Find pain relief 

If you’re suffering from pain, there is help. We work with highly-qualified pain specialists across the U.S. who are dedicated to applying the most cutting-edge research into their current treatment plans. These doctors also make your current lifestyle and needs a priority in treatment. To find a doctor near you, click the button below.

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