Entering a new era of drug-free pain relief – Med-Tech Innovation

Developing pain management solutions that are both effective in reducing pain and safe for long-term use is a significant challenge.

There are currently very few new pain medications in drug development pipelines. I speak both as a researcher and as a patient with knee osteoarthritis when I say that the challenge of pain is not going away, so it is vitally important that we explore alternatives in pain management.

Most of us will experience lower back pain at some point in our lives. This is the most common type of musculoskeletal (MSK) problem, and it affects around 7.5% of the population globally. That’s around 577 million people.

It may sound like science fiction, but self-healing is a real concept, and a new wave of self-healing technologies is waiting in the wings ready to change the way we treat pain.

What is self-healing?

Non-drug interventions are already well established in sports, where wearables, KT tape, cryotherapy, even plasma injections, and other non-drug interventions are already commonplace in MSK injury prevention and treatment.

Scientists have now taken this one step further by showing that the body has an innate ability to self-heal using an incredibly complex process combining the physical and psychological.

Self-healing can target the underlying causes of pain, such as tissue damage or inflammation, and accelerate the body’s natural healing processes. This could lead to faster and more effective pain relief, reducing the need for long-term pain management.

Some self-healing technologies may potentially even have a preventive aspect, addressing issues before they escalate into chronic pain. This could be especially beneficial for conditions like MSK injuries and chronic low back pain.

Far infrared patches are one of these new technologies that could be about to revolutionise pain relief. They do not contain any medicine but instead use infrared technology to reflect back into the skin some of the energy that the body releases. The reflected energy causes local changes in the blood flow within the smallest vessels under the skin and because of this, it is believed that pain may be reduced. 

The infrared technology can be delivered as a simple wearable patch. A new study funded by Sanofi has demonstrated that wearing the infrared-technology patch delivered a meaningful reduction in acute MSK related lower back pain up to five days in adult subjects.

While the development, implementation and acceptance of self-healing technologies may take some time, the findings of this study suggest a new wave of drug-free alternatives for MSK pain relief could be just around the corner.

Launching new pain management solutions

Despite increasing evidence of self-healing, the concept itself is new and needs to be firmly established as a platform that can be used to launch new pain management solutions.

Many patients recognise the side effects of pharmaceutical painkillers, and they want to move away from overuse and dependency on such drugs. Consequently, they seek complementary and alternative therapies for pain relief.

Integrating these into mainstream medical practice and ensuring their safety and efficacy is a challenge because many of the major international medical and scientific societies are reluctant to take alternative therapies and holistic approaches seriously.

The pain management solution in the Sanofi-funded far infrared patch study takes advantage of the concept of self-healing and combines this with infrared technology and wearable patches that are safe and effective.

Benefits of self-healing

With growing pressure on healthcare systems around the world, many of us are self-treating when it comes to ailments like back pain.

Many existing pain medications have significant side effects on the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems which can result in people making difficult decisions about the trade-offs between pain relief and side effects. More clinical treatment guidelines have recently been updated to highlight the risks of long-term consumption of pain medications.

Concerns about opioid addiction and overdose have led to stricter regulations on opioid prescriptions, which can make it challenging for patients with legitimate pain needs to access these medications. This has been particularly problematic in North America and several other regions.

With better self-healing mechanisms, individuals may require fewer pain medications, which can have side effects and potential for addiction, improving their overall well-being.

Decreasing the need for frequent medical consultations, surgeries, and medications, self-healing technologies could lower healthcare costs for both individuals and healthcare systems and reduce the dependency that human beings have developed on pharmacological pain medications.

Enabling patients to take their health into their own hands

Patients and patient organisations are crucial partners in the core development of future pain management solutions. Patient education and informed decision-making are of paramount significance if we are to improve the lives of individuals. The patient experience is crucial for the development of new pain management strategies.

By placing health in the hands of individuals, we can usher in a future where self-healing complements standard approaches, offering safe and effective pain relief using multimodal and multidisciplinary approaches.