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Chronic Pain Relief: New Treatments

New advances in drugs and technology mean there are now better solutions for chronic pain relief.

Medications: First Step in Chronic Pain Relief continued...

A new generation of anticonvulsant drugs is looking promising for chronic pain relief, says Gallagher. "There's a lot of work being done to improve these drugs, make them more convenient to take -- with fewer side effects."

Antidepressants. Low doses of common antidepressants are being prescribed for many chronic pain problems. These drugs adjust levels of brain chemicals, which is thought to be their mechanism for helping to control pain.

Antidepressants often help when patients don't get complete chronic pain relief from other treatments. They relieve pain whether the person is depressed or not. The doses needed to treat pain are usually lower than doses used for depression treatment.

  • Elavil, Pamelor, and Norpramin are tricyclic antidepressants prescribed to help treat pain, especially cancer pain, nerve pain from diabetic neuropathy, and postherpetic neuralgia pain from shingles. They affect levels of the brain chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin.

  • Cymbalta is a serotonin and norephinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), which increases availability of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine. Cymbalta is FDA-approved for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia, and musculoskeletal pain like that of osteoporosis and chronic low back pain.

Pain relief creams. Topical painkillers like Zostrix, which contains capsaicin, are often helpful. Capsaicin works by reducing transmission of a pain-relaying chemical called substance P to the brain. Products with these ingredients also work: salicylate (found in products like Aspercreme and Bengay), a substance that decreases inflammation and relieves pain; and counter-irritants like camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol, which relieve pain by causing either coolness or heat at the pain site.

Skin patches. A transdermal patch that contains lidocaine can offer chronic pain relief. The patches are FDA-approved for chronic nerve pain from shingles, a condition known as postherpetic neuralgia. Lidoderm and Lidopain are two lidocaine skin patches, available by prescription. Capsaicin also comes in a patch applied by your doctor called Qutenza. It can be used every three months.

Narcotics: Serious Medicine for the Worst Chronic Pain

When pain is severe, pain specialists take treatment to the next level. Narcotic pain medications like codeine, fentanyl, morphine, and oxycodone work on the nerve cells' pain receptors and are very effective in controlling severe chronic pain.

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