What Were 2018’s Most Popular Stories on RELIEF?

A “Pain 101” article on the interaction between the nervous system and the immune system takes the top spot. Image credit: Romolo Tavani/123RF Stock Photo.

It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2018, but before doing so it’s a great time to look back at the RELIEF stories that caught your attention over the past year. Yes, it’s time for a Top Ten!

The most popular story in 2018 on RELIEF was a “Pain 101” feature that delved into some of the latest thinking on how microglia—the immune cells of the central nervous system—contribute to pain.

This story summarized a talk by Michael Salter, a pain researcher at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, whose work in animals has shown that microglia in the spinal cord can amplify the electrical signals coming from nociceptors (known as nociceptive signals). Nociceptors are nerve cells that transmit information about potential threats to the body—dangerous chemicals or temperatures, for instance—into the spinal cord. Once the nociceptive signal amplified by microglia reaches the brain, an experience of pain can emerge.

The story emphasized that in order to understand chronic pain, it’s necessary to study how different bodily systems interact; looking at the nervous system in isolation gives an incomplete picture.

Coming in at number two was The Role of Diet in Chronic Pain: You Are What You Eat? This meeting report from the largest neuroscience conference in the world highlighted links between diet and pain. It turns out that the Standard American Diet (SAD)—lots of carbohydrates and fats—really does make for a sad story when it comes to pain, in part because it changes the composition of bacteria in the gut, according to animal studies. The good news is that mice with an experimental injury that causes inflammation recovered more quickly when switched to a healthier diet, compared to when their eating habits were poor.

Take a look at the full Top Ten list below—and stay tuned for more coverage of the latest in pain research in 2019…

Top Ten RELIEF articles in 2018

1. Pain 101: How the Immune System Influences Chronic Pain
Microglia emerge as important players in the communication between immune cells and nerve cells.
November 19, 2018

2. The Role of Diet in Chronic Pain: You Are What You Eat?
Researchers examine the role of omega fatty acids, the microbiome and more at a recent neuroscience meeting.
February 6, 2018

3. Looking to the Brain to Understand Chronic Pain
New brain studies presented at a recent neuroscience conference show why the experience of pain is more than just a physical sensation.
March 21, 2018

4. Opioid Drugs Work Differently Than Natural Opioids
A new study offers a reason why opioid drugs have more powerful effects than the body’s own morphine-like chemicals. The research could influence future pain drug development efforts.
August 9, 2018

5. Why Are the Fingertips So Sensitive to Pain?
Nerve fibers that send pain signals vary in shape in the spinal cord of mice, hinting at an explanation for the keenness of pain in people.
January 11, 2018

6. Understanding Migraine Triggers and Barriers to Treatment: A Chat With Richard Lipton
In this RELIEF interview, migraine expert Richard Lipton discusses what epidemiologists have learned about migraine, including triggers of the condition.
February 8, 2018

7. The Body Hurts, but the Head and Face Often Hurt More. Why?
The discovery of a new connection between different brain areas may explain the increased severity of head and face pain.
March 29, 2018

8. Treating Chronic Pain With Non-Drug Approaches: What Does the Evidence Say?
A recent study shows evidence for long-term benefits of exercise, psychological treatments and other non-pharmacological strategies.
October 8, 2018

9. Expectations Versus Reality: Spinal Surgery Does Not End Opioid Use for Pain
A new study reports that fewer than one in ten patients on long-term opioids before their operation discontinue the drugs post-surgery.
July 10, 2018

10. When the Immune System Attacks Its Own Proteins, Pain Can Emerge
Patients with autoantibodies against the protein CASPR2 have hyperexcitable nerve cells.
June 7, 2018