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Painkillers can cause longterm pain

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You reach for the painkillers when you experience a sudden sharp pain—and it could be one of the worst things you can do, according to new research.

Painkillers such as the NSAIDs (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs) and steroids may give immediate relief, but they could lead to longterm chronic pain.

The drugs interfere with the body’s inflammatory response, which repairs damaged tissue, say researchers at McGill University.  “Inflammation occurs for a reason, and it looks like it’s dangerous to interfere with it,” said lead researcher Jeffery Mogil.

Analysing a group of people who were suffering from low back pain, the researchers discovered the standard painkillers were blocking the spread of a special type of white blood cell, known as neutrophils, that start inflammation and the healing process.

In experiments with laboratory mice, the researchers discovered that blocking the neutrophils prolonged the duration of pain ten-fold.  Their findings mirror another study of around 500,000 people who were still experiencing pain between two and 10 years after taking painkillers for the original problem.

Although medicine needs to move away from the anti-inflammatories, people with pain shouldn’t despair: there are already other ways to treat acute pain, the researchers say.

Science Translational Medicine, 2022; 14: doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abj9954

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