Monday, April 29, 2019

Virtual Reality as Therapy for Pain - The New York Times

I was packing up at the end of a family vacation in Florida when my back went into an excruciating spasm unrelieved by a fistful of pain medication. As my twin sons, then 8 years old, wheeled me through the airport, one of them suggested, "Mom, if you think about something else, it won't hurt so much."

At the time, I failed to appreciate the wisdom of his advice. Now, four decades later, a sophisticated distraction technique is being used to help patients of all ages cope with pain, both acute and chronic. The method, called Virtual Reality Therapy, goes beyond simple distraction, as might result from watching television. Rather, it totally immerses the patient in an entertaining, relaxing, interactive environment that so occupies the brain, it has no room to process pain sensations at the same time.

"It's not just a distraction — it's like an endogenous narcotic providing a physiological and chemical burst that causes you to feel good," said Jeffrey I. Gold, director of the pediatric pain management clinic at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "It's different from reading a book or playing with a toy. It's a multisensory experience that engages a person's attention on a much deeper level."

Virtual Reality Therapy is the new kid on the block for pain management, now gradually growing in use as the opioid epidemic continues to soar and the price of the needed equipment has plummeted. VR, as it is called, has been most widely and successfully used so far to help children and adults weather acute pain, as can accompany an IV insertion or debridement of burns. But it can also enhance the effectiveness of established techniques like physical therapy, hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy to treat debilitating chronic pain.

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

National Pain Report – What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

The National Pain Report is the leading online news site dedicated to the coverage of chronic pain. We feature the latest developments in the treatment of chronic pain, public policy impacting chronic pain as well comments from leading pain specialists and columns from chronic pain sufferers.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Why the sexes don’t feel pain the same way

Robert Sorge was studying pain in mice in 2009, but he was the one who ended up with a headache.

At McGill University in Montreal, Canada, Sorge was investigating how animals develop an extreme sensitivity to touch. To test for this response, Sorge poked the paws of mice using fine hairs, ones that wouldn't ordinarily bother them. The males behaved as the scientific literature said they would: they yanked their paws back from even the finest of threads.

But females remained stoic to Sorge's gentle pokes and prods1. "It just didn't work in the females," recalls Sorge, now a behaviourist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "We couldn't figure out why." Sorge and his adviser at McGill University, pain researcher Jeffrey Mogil, would go on to determine that this kind of pain hypersensitivity results from remarkably different pathways in male and female mice, with distinct immune-cell types contributing to discomfort2.

Sorge and Mogil would never have made their discovery if they had followed the conventions of most pain researchers. By including male and female mice, they were going against the crowd. At the time, many pain scientists worried that females' hormone cycles would complicate results. Others stuck with males because, well, that's how things were done.

Today, inspired in part by Sorge and Mogil's work and spurred on by funders, pain researchers are opening their eyes to the spectrum of responses across sexes. Results are starting to trickle out, and it's clear that certain pain pathways vary considerably, with immune cells and hormones having key roles in differing responses.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Acute to Chronic Pain Signatures | NIH Common Fund

This program will develop a set of objective biomarkers that provide a "signature" to predict a transition from acute to chronic pain, in order to accelerate therapy development and ultimately to guide pain prevention strategies. These biomarkers are greatly needed as the number of people who transition from acute to chronic pain after an acute pain event is surprisingly high. This high prevalence of chronic pain in the US has in part contributed to the current opioid epidemic.

A major challenge in pain management is preventing chronic pain from occurring after an acute pain event. For most people, acute pain resolves as the injury or trauma that caused it heals. Yet in many other people, acute pain from injury, surgery, or disease persists beyond the initial insult, and can last for years or throughout life. Many drugs, while effective early on, lose efficacy over time and make the transition from acute to chronic pain worse. In those who transition to chronic pain, maladaptive changes occur throughout the nervous system. Our ability to reverse these changes is very limited. Our lack of understanding of the mechanisms of transition to chronic pain is a major gap in knowledge that limits development of effective preventive therapies. The ability to identify those at risk for transitioning to chronic pain could inform future clinical trials, improve success of trials, and transform acute pain treatment approaches for prevention of chronic pain.

The Acute to Chronic Pain Signatures program will use advances in imaging, high-throughput biomedical experiments ('omics), sensory testing, and psychosocial assessments to explore a range of characteristics from patients who transition or are resilient to chronic pain. The study will follow two groups from the time of acute pain event over a period of six months. One group will have post-operative pain and the other will have musculoskeletal trauma. The key deliverable of the program is a comprehensive data set for the research communities that should reveal "signatures" predictive of transition versus resilience to chronic pain.


NIH seeks input from the scientific community on specific candidate molecules, tests, patient reported outcomes, psychosocial factors, health record data, and/or other characteristics that could potentially serve as high value biomarkers for predicting acute to chronic pain transition and/or resilience which should be considered for inclusion as outcome measures to collect in the studies. All recommendations should be backed up with a rationale and citations from peer reviewed literature or other justification. Potential candidates could include, but are not limited to, the following:

• Specific electronic health record information, including co-occurring conditions, prescription information, etc.
• Specific patient reported outcomes (e.g., PROMIS measures)
• Candidate psychosocial factors
• CNS or other imaging features
• Sensory tests for mechanical, temperature, or other types of pain
• Actinography for sleep and circadian rhythms and locomotor activity
• Molecules that can be obtained in patient blood, serum, or other non-invasively collected fluids
• Candidate genetic variants