Companionship has the potential to reduce pain caused by nerve damage
Adam Hinzey, a graduate student in neuroscience, is lead author of a new study finding that companionship has the potential to reduce pain linked to nerve damage. Courtney DeVries, professor of neuroscience, was principal investigator on the study.
Companionship appears to be the key; with someone else in the same vicinity, those recovering from surgery suffer less of a nerve-related pain while inflammation levels lower faster. Simply having a friend nearby helps reduce stress which, in turn, allows the body to heal quicker, the study suggests.
Mice that were paired with a cage-mate showed lower pain responses and fewer signs of inflammation in their nervous system after undergoing surgery that affected their nerves than did isolated mice, suggesting that the social contact had both behavioral and physiological influences.
"If they were alone and had stress, the animals had increased inflammation and allodynia behaviour. If the mice had a social partner, both allodynia and inflammation were reduced," said Hinzey.
“We believe that socially isolated individuals are physiologically different from socially paired individuals, and that this difference seems to be related to inflammation,” added DeVries. “These data showed very nicely that the social environment is influencing not just behavior but really the physiological response to the nerve injury.”
To be effective, social contact has to be old fashioned, where the friend is there in person and not simply on a social network like Facebook or Twitter.
More than 20 million Americans experience the nerve pain known as peripheral neuropathy as a consequence of diabetes or other disorders as well as trauma, including spinal cord injury. Few reliable treatments are available for this persistent pain.
“The findings could have a significant bearing for millions of people who suffer a nerve pain called peripheral neuropathy, often connected to diabetes, trauma and spinal cord injury,” Hinzey said: "A better understanding of social interaction's beneficial effects could lead to new therapies for this type of pain."
Hinzey presented the research during a press conference on October 15 at Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
Read the entire press release, courtesy of Emily Caldwell, Ohio State Research and Innovation Communications, http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/nervepain.htm