Halting Inflammation to Combat Pain Can Lead to Chronic Pain Study Shows

Inflammation is an important aspect of the body’s healing process because it is part of the body’s immune response to foreign intruders into its system. Whenever tissue is damaged via any physical (injury, burn, or frostbite), chemical (poisons, alcohol, or toxins), or biological means (infections, diseases, or allergies), an immune response is immediately generated by the body’s defense cells – the white blood cells.

Back Pain

Back Pain

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During the inflammatory process, white blood cells release chemicals into the blood, which are carried to the site of tissue damage. These chemicals attack the affected tissues in a way that fights off the bacteria or other foreign bodies in that area. When these chemicals are released into the blood, they intensify the blood flow to the injured tissues, stimulate nerves, and may cause fluids to get into the tissues, consequently leading to redness of the skin around the injured tissues, pain, and swelling of that area.

Because the inflammatory process causes pain, doctors usually administer anti-inflammatory drugs to stop the pain. These drugs have always been used to stop pain due to inflammation. However, recent research by McGill University and their Italian colleagues has shown that the use of these drugs only stops the pain for a short period, whereas, in the long run, they lead to more intense pain.

Anti-inflammatory drugs cause more pain

After observing the pain mechanism in both mice and humans, the team noticed that neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) were an important part of the pain-resolving process. According to Professor Mogil, a member of the Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain, neutrophils take charge during the early stages of the inflammatory process and are necessary for the repair of damaged tissues.

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When the team tried to hinder the activity of neutrophils in injured mice, they observed that the pain lingered for ten times the normal duration. They also observed the same effect after treating the mice with dexamethasone and diclofenac which are both anti-inflammatory drugs. These results are backed up by that from another experiment involving 500,000 people in the United Kingdom, which reveals that the population that opted for anti-inflammatory drugs as a measure to treat their pain, ended up experiencing more pain two to ten years later, as opposed to the population that turned to acetaminophen or anti-depressants to relieve theirs. The team concluded that doctors should turn to other pain-resolving methods that do not hinder the inflammatory process, rather than opting for the use of anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids.

Clinical significance

The findings from this study have put an end to the long-held belief that administering anti-inflammatory drugs to people who are in pain is the best way to relieve them of that pain. It shows that the reverse is the case, as halting the inflammatory process with the use of these drugs causes chronic pain in the years to come.

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This study calls for a re-think of the option involving the use of anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of pain, as it reveals that this option only leads to more intense pain in the future.


Acute inflammatory response via neutrophil activation protects against the development of chronic pain



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