A review in the Journal of Stem Cell Research & Therapy has summarized an array of studies that demonstrate that a specific type of stem cell – the mesenchymal stem cell – may be beneficial as a therapeutic approach to chronic pain. The authors point to the huge burden of chronic pain. It is estimated that more than 115 people suffer from the condition, which is more than those who suffer from diabetes, stroke, cancer, and coronary heart disease combined.
Chronic pain is also associated with significant losses in productivity. Given how extreme the burden of chronic pain has become, the National Institute of Medicine has suggested that finding effective ways to alleviate chronic pain should become a priority for the nation.
Regenerative medicine has offered an effective way to treat a variety of injuries and diseases, including some that are related to chronic pain. As the term “regenerative medicine” implies, much of the research into the clinical effects of stem cells have shown that they lead to beneficial outcomes by regenerating damaged tissue by replacing that tissue with new cells.
This new review looks at the potential of mesenchymal stem cells to specifically improve chronic pain through the ability of the cells to suppress inflammation. Given that inflammation is a common characteristic of conditions associated with chronic pain, a strategy that addresses this phenomenon could represent an effective way to help those with chronic pain that comes from things like degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis.
The current approaches to chronic pain are limited in their ability to reduce or control pain, so there is a great need to develop more effective therapies. Research thus far into the potential impact of mesenchymal stem cells on chronic pain has provided promising results regarding effectiveness and safety. Specifically, these stem cells have not been associated with adverse side effects, they lead to the development and growth of healthy tissue, and they appear to provide pain relief. Future research will help to clarify the mechanisms by which mesenchymal stem cells may confer their benefits to those with chronic pain and provide new insights into how can best use these cells to help chronic pain sufferers.
Reference: Waterman, R.S. & Betancourt, A.M. (2011). Treating chronic pain with mesenchymal stem cells: A therapeutic approach worthy of continued investigation. Journal of Stem Cell Research & Therapy, S2, 1-5.
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), now also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), is a condition that is thought to arise for a combination of reasons, but its etiology is not clear. People with the disorder experience changes to their skin, swelling, and bone loss. One hallmark of the condition is the experience of nonspecific pain that is sensitive to weather. Unfortunately, managing RSD is often difficult. Patients with RSD/CRPS may have a hard time walking because of pain and may need assistive devices.
Clinical management of RSD/CRPS often involves things like pharmaceutical medications and restorative therapies, but these strategies are limited in their effectiveness. As a result, most patients with RSD experience chronic pain and a lower quality of life than those without the disorder. A case report has described the innovative use of stem cells to treat a patient with Stage 3 RSD. The rationale for using stem cells against RSD is that stem cells have provided regenerative benefits in a variety of other disorders and are capable of promoting the generation of blood vessels, which can support healing.
The patient, who was a female Registered Nurse, had been experiencing pain in her left lower extremity after an operation aimed at fixing a complex fracture. Following the surgery, the patient had been suffering from nonspecific pain and was diagnosed with a form of RSD/CRPS. She subsequently underwent months of aggressive therapy, but the therapy failed in helping her to walk. Instead, she was left unable to bear weight on her left leg.
Given that the patient’s problems persistent despite conventional treatment options, the patient was given stem cell therapy. Specifically, cells were harvested from the bone marrow and grafted to the calf in the hopes that blood flow would be enhanced, and the symptoms would be eliminated. According to the author of the report, the results of this stem cell therapy were excellent.
After just 2 weeks, skin symptoms were already going away, as was the patient’s pain. Critically, the patient was also able to put some weight on her left leg. By 30 days post-procedure, she was able to rid herself of assistive walking devices. These results demonstrate the promise of stem cells to help with complex and difficult-to-manage medical conditions like RSD/CRPS. Further research will help to determine the best way that stem cells may be used to treat other RSD patients.
Reference: Schwartz, R.G. Stem cells for the treatment of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)/ reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD): A case study Pan American Journal of Medical Terminology, 1(2), 89-92.
It’s a well-known fact that smoking can increase the risk of serious disease over the long term, but research also suggests it could make your day-to-day life more difficult, too. In particular, a University of Kentucky study shows smokers are more likely to experience at least one chronic pain syndrome.
While former smokers experience a 20% greater likelihood of experiencing chronic pain, occasional smokers had a 68% increase. For daily smokers, the odds of experiencing chronic pain more than doubled compared to non-smokers. The conditions studied in the analysis included:
- Chronic joint, neck, and back pain
- Persistent head pain
- Nerve problems
- Widespread pain throughout the body
Yet, this study isn’t the only one to have associated chronic pain with smoking. In fact, nearly 50 studies conducted between the mid-1970s and 1990s link smoking to lower back pain. Facial pain, nerve pain, and knee pain are among the most prevalent complaints among groups who smoke.
What’s the Connection?
Despite the trend, researchers haven’t yet pinpointed a precise reason why smoking causes chronic pain. Of course, it must also be asked whether smoking is sometimes used as a coping mechanism for individuals experiencing persistent pain. Nonetheless, we do know certain facts about smoking which can, in part, explain how it contributes to pain:
- Nicotine is believed to modulate pain sensitivity. It may help to minimize sensitivity at first, but this effect can wear off over time. When it does, pain may feel worse.
- Smoking decreases oxygen levels in the blood, thereby preventing tissues from getting the critical oxygen they need. Thus, the habit is associated with a number of pain-inducing conditions, including osteoporosis and increased risk of bone fracture.
- Smoking and chronic pain are both commonly seen in conditions such as depression and substance abuse. These conditions might make it more difficult for individuals to manage their pain levels through healthy, effective means.
Cessation for Pain Management
While former smokers are slightly more likely to report chronic pain than individuals who have never smoked, there is a definite decrease in likelihood between former and current smokers. For this reason, researchers believe people who are experiencing chronic pain could benefit from quitting, in addition to other healthy pain management strategies. Likewise, effectively treating chronic pain could potentially increase a smoker’s odds of quitting successfully. Although further research is needed, quitting smoking will always be one of the best things you can do to improve your health, both now and into the future. If you need help in quitting smoking, there are options for you, but perhaps it may be best to start with consulting with your physician.