Chronic Pain: The Latest Research Findings
In the United States, over 100 million people suffer from chronic pain, which is defined as pain that lasts for weeks or even years. The financial costs associated with treating the condition total more than $600 billion annually. Yet within the past ten years, medication research has led to doctors understanding pain and being able to develop new approaches to treatment.
Based on current research findings, chronic pain specialists are using neuroimaging to gain greater insight as to why some people have chronic pain while others don’t. As more lab research is conducted, doctors have discovered that when a person is in chronic pain, the emotion centers of the brain are more active than the sensory centers, which are more active in cases of acute pain. Based on these discoveries, pain specialists are now looking not only at treatment involving medication, but also alternative therapies as well as psychological therapies and mind/body treatments such as yoga.
One of the newer ways to help patients deal with chronic pain is to pair them with a pain psychologist. Acting much like a sports coach, the psychologist focuses on using a mind/body approach to help a patient learn to manage their pain as effectively as possible by using a variety of techniques such as guided imagery, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral retraining, and self-hypnosis. While considered only additional ways to treat chronic pain, they have shown promise in many patients.
As many doctors believe, the development of new medications will be vital in letting patients learn to manage chronic pain. One of the newest developments is prescribing sustained-release medications that provide relief for up to 24 hours, rather than giving patients pills that must be taken every three or four hours. Antidepressants and anticonvulsants are commonly being used to manage chronic pain, with newer combinations that allow patients to take fewer pills each day. Lab research is also being done to develop drugs that focus on ion channels, which are responsible for moving electrolytes in and out of nerves, thus sending pain messages to the brain. The goal of current research is to learn how to impact ion channels and keep the nerves from firing, thus eliminating pain.
As the field of pain management continues its quest to help patients suffering from chronic pain, these and other developments will help lead the way for better treatment methods.