It’s that time of year: time to reflect and look back on everything we have learned. This year there have been many incredible pain breakthroughs in chronic pain research and treatment. Here are our top ten biggest pain breakthroughs of 2014.
One in five people in the U.S. suffer from arthritis. Last year, a new study uncovered a surprising risk factor: parental addiction. As the Colorado Pain blog noted:
“In a study conducted by the University of Toronto, researchers found that parental addiction can increase the risk of adult arthritis. Specifically, it was found that growing up in a home with at least one parent with a drug or alcohol addiction increased a person’s risk for adult arthritis by 58%, after adjusting for age, race, and sex. When the researchers also adjusted for income, education, childhood maltreatment, mood disorders, and poor health behaviors (obesity, smoking, etc.), parental addiction still increased the risk of adult arthritis by 30%.”
A team of researchers identified a new target for chronic pain. Current chronic pain treatments target individual pain receptors to block the sensation of pain. Because there can be thousands of pain receptors, blocking them all can be impossible. This new study offers a more comprehensive way to affect more receptors at once, opening up potential treatment protocols that simplify the way chronic pain is approached.
A study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology found that pain has a genetic component that can be traced through the presence of certain gene variants (alleles). These variants were COMT, DRD2, DRD1, and OPRK1, and their presence was remarkable in study groups reporting a high pain level. This research helps others understand that pain is not all in a person’s head; it’s also in their genes.
Researchers at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences found that electroacupuncture (traditional acupuncture that sends a weak electrical current between needles) helped reduce inflammation in mice with sepsis. This study is a breakthrough in chronic pain research because it may indicate a way to reduce post-surgical deaths that are linked to inflammation.
Most osteoporosis treatments focus on halting the progress of the condition, but as we noted in our post on a recent pain breakthrough:
“A study at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has found a new pathway for stimulating bone growth (and re-growth) in mice that potentially offers a way to combat the effects of osteoporosis… Although bisphosphonates have been shown to slow the progression of bone loss, osteoporosis still causes millions of bone fractures in the hips, legs, wrists, and spine every year. A new osteoporosis treatment that not only suppresses bone-degrading cells but also stimulates new bone growth could help lower that number significantly and be a breakthrough treatment for this disease.”
A study published in September of this year found that placental stem cells were as effective as fetal stem cells when treating multiple sclerosis. Placental stem cells are a less controversial and legally fraught form of stem cells, and they are widely available. After a year of treatment with placental stem cells, patients in the study had stabilized and showed no worsening of symptoms.
The over 36 million people suffering from migraine headaches are always in need of a pain breakthrough, and this year a study was released that identified two potential treatments to prevent migraines. Study participants had a 66% reduction in migraine days for five to eight weeks after a single IV dose of the treatment and a 63% reduction in migraine days when taking the drug biweekly for three months.
Quebec City’s Laval University had a revolutionary pain breakthrough this year: to change the way the body responds to pain by triggering a pain response and studying it. This new research found that researchers could reduce sensitivity to pain by triggering the sensitivity. This speaks to the way the brain senses and stores pain memories and could lead to new treatments for chronic pain, including “erasing” the memory of pain in the brain.
A study this year from Indiana University indicated that patients who took part in whole body vibration reported a decrease in fibromyalgia pain and an increase in the quality of life. Patients were asked to either lie down or sit down on a machine that vibrated, causing the muscles in the body to contract and release. This machine helps the body simulate more active exercise, and exercise is a key component in the treatment of fibromyalgia. This treatment could offer benefits to those fibromyalgia patients who are experiencing pain that makes it difficult to exercise as well as those who are fearful that exercise might cause pain.
The passage of laws legalizing recreational use of marijuana in Colorado have lead to an increase in non-medical use, but research is showing that marijuana may be an effective treatment for neuropathic (nerve-related) pain. This type of pain is common in patients with diabetes. One study from McGill University in Montreal, Canada found that patients who did not respond to traditional treatments of neuropathic pain found relief when utilizing medical marijuana. This randomized controlled trial, although small, is important because the findings controlled for the placebo effect.
This year saw pain breakthroughs in research that will pave the way for new chronic pain treatments and therapies. Where should researchers focus in 2015?
Image by U.S. Army RDECOM via Flickr