Topic / NEU Research

From the Professor's Desk: gaining power over pain

Substantial pain is a major problem for many with MS. Affecting between 30-85% of people with MS, it can be headache, back or musculoskeletal pain, neuropathic pain, or may accompany spasms or spasticity.

Substantial pain is a major problem for many with MS. Affecting between 30-85% of people with MS, it can be headache, back or musculoskeletal pain, neuropathic pain, or may accompany spasms or spasticity.

The impacts are profound and wide ranging. MS-related pain can affect daily activities, employment, quality of life, and can contribute to problems with sleep, fatigue, mood, and cognition.

Overall, along with fatigue, many people with MS describe it as the worst aspect of the illness. While reaching for pain medication may feel like the only thing we can do, a new study from our team suggests this is not the case.

The latest HOLISM paper, published in Frontiers of Neurology, explored associations between substantial pain, demographic, disease, and modifiable lifestyle factors in people with MS.

Lead author, Dr Claudia Marck says, “Our study identified important associations between the experience of substantial pain and modifiable lifestyle risk factors”.

In this study of 2,362 people with MS internationally, substantial pain was defined as pain of moderate to severe intensity that interfered at least moderately with work/household or enjoyment of life in the previous four weeks.

Important findings were that current smokers and those experiencing obesity were twice as likely as others to experience substantial pain.

By contrast, people adopting a healthy diet, engaging in moderate or high physical activity, or consuming moderate levels of alcohol had significantly less substantial pain.

The really interesting thing about these findings is that these same modifiable lifestyle risk factors are recognised as important in preventing progression in MS, and are seen as targets for reducing pain syndromes in other groups of people without MS.

Disentangling the complex interplay between lifestyle, symptoms and other illnesses that can contribute to pain is tricky. 

“Pain is a multifactorial symptom, with clear physical correlation in people with MS with CNS demyelination and degeneration, but also contributed to by psychosocial factors such as personality, depression, anxiety, and comorbid conditions such as fatigue”, explains Dr Marck.

It is the interplay between these factors that determines the perception of pain. In this study, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and reduced mental health were strongly associated with worse pain.

The authors from the Neuroepidemiology Unit  at The University of Melbourne hope to shed more light on these relationships by examining data collected as part of their ongoing follow up research of these people over several years.

But until then, any pain prevention plan for people with MS should include information about adopting a healthier lifestyle. The OMS Recovery Program fits the bill perfectly!

Associate Professor Tracey Weiland More from the NEU:

NEU HOLISM Study

 Australasians in the HOLISM study healthier than those in North America or Europe

From the Professor’s Desk: A healthy life is a happy life!