A small new study from a team at the University of Manchester showed for the first time that the number of opiate receptors in the brain increases to help the body fight severe pain.
Conducted on arthritics, the study published in the journal Pain found that these receptors, which respond to natural painkillers such as endorphins, increase in number to raise pain threshold and help against long-term severe pain.
Using a laser stimulator, senior research associate Dr. Christopher Brown and his colleagues applied heat to the skin and found that the more opiate receptors the brain had, the higher the body’s ability to hurdle the pain.
The team used Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanning on 17 arthritis patients and 9 healthy controls to illustrate the spread of the opioid receptors and considered the opioid system's adaptive reaction to chronic pain, which allows better pain management in sufferers.
Dr. Brown said this is the first time such changes have been linked to better resilience and ability to adapt to pain. The mechanisms for this are yet to be known, but the findings are believed to help experts find natural solutions without the side effects linked to many pain medications.
Pain is considered chronic if it lasts for over six months, and in the United Kingdom alone it affects about 46 percent of the population. People have various coping responses to pain.
Professor Anthony Jones, Manchester Pain Consortium director, considered it very exciting news in contrast to “a rather negative and fatalistic view of chronic pain.” He said certain simple interventions can likely enhance the natural painkilling process, such as using smart molecules or simple non-drug options.
Arthritis patient Val Derbyshire said, “Anything that can reduce reliance on strong medication must be worth pursuing.”
In the United States, 1 out of every 5 adults are diagnosed with arthritis, a condition covering over 100 different rheumatic conditions. Osteoarthritis is the most common type and symptoms include pain and aches, stiffness, and swelling in or around the joints.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis is much more prevalent among those with other chronic illnesses — it occurs in 49 percent of the population with heart disease and 47 percent with diabetes.
Photo: Allan Ajifo | Flickr