Scientists have found that using drugs like ibuprofen and steroids to relieve short-term health problems could increase the chances of developing chronic pain. A study conducted by scientists from multiple institutes indicated that blocking inflammation with drugs could lead to harder-to-treat issues. The findings of the study were published in the Science Translational Medicine journal recently.
According to the scientists, there is a possibility that inflammation has a protective effect that prevents acute pain from becoming chronic, however, if it is overly reduced it may be harmful.
“While ibuprofen was not studied explicitly in either the human or the mouse data (in the mouse we used diclofenac), as ibuprofen is so common in the UK, it is highly likely that a large percentage of those in the UK Biobank who reported taking ‘NSAIDs’ (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) were in fact taking ibuprofen,”Jeffrey Mogil, a professor of pain studies at McGill University in Canada, said.
The researchers stated that lower-back pain was the most commonly reported form of chronic pain. A type of pain that persists for longer than would be expected after the injury is called chronic pain.
During their study, in order to understand the transition from acute to chronic lower-back pain, the team of scientists followed 98 patients with acute lower back pain for three months. Moreover, they also analysed the mechanisms of pain in both humans and mice. During this examination, they found that neutrophils which is a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infection – play a key role in resolving pain. They also found that blocking these cells in mice prolonged the pain for up to 10 times the normal duration.
Meanwhile, the treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids such as dexamethasone and diclofenac also produced the same result, although they were effective against pain early on.
The findings of the study were supported by a separate analysis of 500,000 people in the UK Biobank study, which revealed that those taking anti-inflammatory drugs were more likely to have pain two to 10 years later. This effect was not seen in people taking paracetamol or antidepressants.