Chronic pain in muscles and joints

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Chronic pain affects large groups of patients and is very costly in terms of human suffering and medical resources. Eva Kosek, Professor of Clinical Pain Research specialising in Musculoskeletal Pain at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, researches the causes of chronic pain in the hope that her work will one day lead to new, more efficacious treatments.

Eva Kosek researches chronic pain in muscles and joints, studying diseases such as fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in order to understand how chronic pain conditions arise and develop.

“Chronic pain isn’t the same as prolonged acute pain,” says Professor Kosek. “Gradual changes take place in the body and brain that make chronic pain classifiable as a disease in itself, rather than a symptom. A negative spiral appears in the signal system between the body and the brain that gradually exacerbates the pain by amplifying the signals and degrading the filter the brain uses to dampen them.”

Professor Kosek now wants to find out more about the precise causes of these changes. New research shows that the glial cells in the brain are activated by pain, which releases inflammatory substances. Professor Kosek’s group has shown that fibromyalgia patients have elevated levels of these inflammatory substances in their cerebrospinal fluid. To see if there is also a link to activated glial cells in these patients, the group is progressing to PET scans.

Professor Kosek’s research also includes genetic factors of significance to chronic pain and the effects of different types of treatment: drugs, exercise, CBT and surgery.

“Drugs for chronic pain have started to appear in the past few years, but for most patients they’re still not enough. This is one reason why it’s important to understand the mechanisms behind the condition, as it will open doors to the development of new, more effective treatments.”

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in "From Cell to Society" 2015. Translation: Neil Betteridge.


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