When we experience pain in any part of our bodies, it is usually an indication that something is wrong. The intensity of pain can range from mild and occasional to severe and constant. A sudden and sharp pain is called acute pain. It may either be mild that lasts for a short while, or may be severe that lasts for weeks or even months. Acute pain usually disappears as soon as the underlying cause of pain is treated or healed. However, when acute pain persists, it may lead to chronic pain. Even when an injury has healed, chronic pain continues to remain active for weeks, or months, even years. While some chronic pain may have been caused by an initial trauma or infection, some people may suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or illness.
For people suffering in pain problems, modern advances in medicine provide new methods for chronic pain relief. Over the years, chronic pain had been dismissed as something that is just “in the head”. However, modern technology has developed ways to understand how the sensation of pain occurs. It has gained greater understanding of how the nervous system, including the spinal cord, interacts with the brain to create such sensation of pain.
New insights into the brain’s neurotransmitter system have paved the way for new techniques in chronic pain relief. Recently, scientists have discovered ways how to maneuver those chemical messengers to change the way they interact with the brain.
This led to the use of antidepressants and other drugs as effective medication for chronic pain relief. Advances in MRI imaging have allowed researchers to clearly demonstrate how real the changes in the brain are. It exactly shows where the sensation of pain is occurring in the brain upon activation by a stimuli. The effects of pain on emotion can be seen, and vice versa.
According to Dr. Kwai-Tung Chan, a pain specialist and professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, there’s a new understanding of a process called central sensitization. He said that if the initial pain from an injury is not adequately treated, those pain signals are sent repeatedly — which leads to changes in the central nervous system, making it more and more sensitive. Over time, even the gentlest touch can become very painful.
Pain specialists are banking on these new insights to prescribe new treatments that attack moderate-to-severe chronic pain from different angles: innovative drugs, targeted nerve-zapping procedures, and drug pumps that deliver strong painkillers to the nerve root. There is also a growing evidence that the use of psychotherapy, relaxation techniques and alternative methods can induce chronic pain relief through mind-body connection.
Research has done a great deal in developing new treatment options in pain management. And there are more advances in the offing. However, people should realize that there are medical doctors who specialize in pain management. Most often, patients consult medical experts when in the later stages of chronic pain when it is already quite difficult to treat. The earlier the condition is treated, the better chances for treatments to be effective.