Why do injuries continue to hurt, even when they are healing? New research reveals why we feel certain kinds of post-injury pain - and possibly how to stop it.
A group of researchers in San Francisco published a paper in this week's Nature that explores one of the many mysteries about pain: Why do light touches near a recent injury feel so painful? The answer is more complicated than you might think. These post-trauma pains, called "mechanical pain," may be caused by a different mechanism than pain associated with injury itself. The researchers discovered that mechanical pain sensations are delivered from the injury site to the spinal cord via a chemical process that can easily be interrupted - just by blocking production of a protein called VGLUT3.
They based their analysis on experiments that proved mice lacking VGLUT3 experienced far less mechanical pain than their VGLUT3-producing cohort.
What this finding suggests is that we might be on the verge of discovering a new breed of painkillers that don't depress the entire nervous system (and fuzz out your brain), but instead interrupt specific pain pathways. In essence, you'd have a highly-targeted painkiller that would prevent your injuries from hurting while they heal. You could dull that pain without dulling your mind - and hopefully without addiction.
The researchers have yet to test on humans, but they do suggest that this could be a promising area of research for pain management.
Image of VGLUT3 in inner ear cells (it's in red) via Human Molecular Genetics