Social Contact May Ease Pain and Inflammation Associated with Nerve Damage, New Study Finds

By Sharon Moore on October 16, 2012

Just having someone by your side might reduce the pain associated with nerve damage, a new study suggests.

In an animal study carried out by the researchers from Ohio State University, it was found that mice that were paired with others had lower pain responses and fewer symptoms of inflammation in their nervous system than those that were left isolated.

The mice had a nerve-related pain called allodynia. This kind of pain is so severe that it could create a withdrawal response to any stimulus that in normal circumstances, would not elicit a response. In the study, the team did a light touch on the paw.

For the experiment, the researchers paired one group of mice with single-cage mate for one week, and left the other group isolated for one week. During the first three days, some mice of each group were exposed to stress while the rest remained un-stressed. Then, the researchers performed nerve surgery on some of subjects that produce sensations similar to neuropathic pain. As a control, they conducted a sham procedure to other mice.

What did they find?

The researchers tested all the mice in terms of their behaviour and physical response. They noticed that mice that had social contact required higher level of force before eliciting a withdrawal response. On the other hand, the mice that were isolated showed increasing pain response with a slight touch on their paw.

Mice that were paired with other subjects in a cage were able to manage the pain better than the isolated mice. They also experienced a reduction in both the allodynia and inflammation.

In terms of the physiological effect, Hinzey and his team looked at the subjects’ brain and spinal cord tissue which are responsible for producing 2 types of protein (interleukin-1 beta and interleukin-6) that signal inflammation. Such proteins tend to increase as a response to injury and stress. The team saw a decrease in the production of these proteins among the mice that had a cage-mate as compared to isolated mice.

What does the study imply?

According to Adam Hinzey, the study lead-author and a graduate student at Ohio State University, more than 20 million Americans suffer from nerve pain, commonly known as peripheral neuropathy. Unfortunately, there are a very few reliable treatments for this kind of debilitating, persistent condition. In the UK, the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. According to the NHS, 1 in 50 people in England has this condition and most of the sufferers are from the older population.

Hinzey believed that a deeper understanding of the beneficial effects of social contact to pain sufferers could eventually lead to the development of new therapies that will provide comfort to these people. Furthermore, their study suggests that the social environment has an effect not just to the behaviour but also to the physiological response against nerve-related pain.


Source of this article:

Social contact can ease pain related to nerve damage, animal study suggests, Ohio State University



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