When you hear the words pain relief, you likely experience a twinge of doubt. After all, you’ve tried nearly every therapy imaginable – oral pain medications, physical therapy, ice, and so on – and still haven’t found a modality that works for you. But at Thrive Wellness Now in Oak Brook, IL, we have a very different and very effective treatment that may just change your mind and your life: ketamine therapy for pain.
What Is Ketamine Infusion?
Ketamine is a medication with a relatively long history. Researchers discovered it in 1962 by merging a ketone (a water-soluble molecule used by the body as an alternative fuel) with an amine (an organic compound containing nitrogen). The goal was to find an anesthetic to replace PCP, and ketamine provided just that. But continued research revealed that as a medication, the compound possessed many uses, including that of pain relief.
Ketamine today is administered by IV infusions to provide rapid results. Each session lasts between two and three hours, and patients feel physically relaxed while staying mentally alert. To further promote comfort, we administer the medication in dark, quiet rooms on soft beds. We also provide eye masks and noise-canceling headphones through which gentle music streams for a truly enjoyable experience.
How Is Ketamine Therapy for Pain Different from Other Treatments?
Ketamine is recognized as an NMDA receptor antagonist. When activated, NMDA receptors in both the brain and spinal cord cause pain that can be felt throughout the body. It’s interesting to note NMDA receptors also reduce the functionality of opioid receptors. This leads to decreased sensitivity so patients need increasingly higher opioid doses to continue achieving therapeutic effects.
The mechanism behind ketamine therapy is different from that of oral pain medications. It blocks NMDA receptors altogether to prevent the conveyance of pain. In a clinical trial that compared IV ketamine to opioids, patients who received the former needed less physician intervention to manage discomfort. They also reported greater satisfaction with ketamine, as it poses no risk for dependency.
Additional Mechanisms of Ketamine IV Therapy
Studies show ketamine may further suppress the transmission of pain by limiting microglial and astrocyte activation. Both are found within cells contained in the central nervous system (CNS) and are recognized as fundamental to acute and chronic pain sensations. Additional ways in which ketamine may relieve pain include the following:
- Suppresses inflammatory responses
- Activates the innate repair receptor (IRR) to repair tissues and reduce inflammation
- Triggers inhibitory pathways involved in analgesia at the spinal level
Equally important is the rapid way in which ketamine therapy works. As a lipophilic compound, it easily traverses the blood-brain barrier in around one minute. This provides quick relief of acute pain that compares very favorably with opioids and NSAIDs, both of which take closer to 30 minutes for relief onset. Ketamine also provides long-lasting relief that persists well beyond the treatment period, which may be the result of either of these factors:
- Desensitization of the NMDA
- Restoration of sensory cells so the sensation of chronic pain stops
Why Is Chronic Pain So Difficult to Treat?
Pain is a complex mechanism. Chronically, it affects roughly 50 million adults in the U.S., which is almost twice the number of people afflicted by heart disease. But we must remember that not all pain is bad; in fact, it is a biological process that protects the body from injury, helping us identify dangerous or harmful situations and reminding us when tissue is damaged and needs protection.
To better understand this concept, consider patients who are congenitally incapable of feeling pain. They often succumb to organ failure or infections because they have injuries that go unattended. Chronic pain, however, poses distress that is all but inescapable; it also serves no purpose for healing or survival. Chronic pain can persist even after an injury is healed and may be caused by:
- Injuries sustained in war
- Car accidents
- Violent and/or repeated trauma
Tricky to Diagnose
Diagnosing the cause of pain is no easy feat. Many health care providers, unfortunately, dismiss patient complaints as being psychological or the result of drug-seeking behaviors. In addition, people experience pain differently. What might cause extreme distress for you may hurt someone else in a more moderate way. No universal threshold for pain exists, meaning each individual has a different need.
Identifying this need requires doctors to investigate the cause of the pain, the extent of the injury, and how therapy can help. Throughout this lengthy process, patients continue to suffer. Chronic pain also poses psychological consequences, and many patients develop depression on top of their physical distress. Opioids are so often prescribed because they suppress pain signals from nerves and also improve emotional states.
Therapy Can Cause Unwanted Effects
But, as explained earlier, patients quickly become tolerant of opioids. These medications also put patients at risk for abuse and overdoses. NSAIDs can be similarly dangerous, but for different reasons. When taken for months or years, as regularly happens with chronic pain, patients are at risk for developing:
- Heart attacks, strokes, and heart-related deaths
- Upset stomach, ulcers, and bleeding in the GI tract
- Kidney failure
Research Funding Lags
The competition for medical research funding is intense. A lack of money deters many scientists from continuing research, especially in the field of pain management. In addition, medical and dental school programs provide little insight into pain mechanisms and treatment. Health professionals, therefore, begin practicing medicine with little knowledge of chronic pain. This contributes to widespread under-treatment of pain and opioid abuse.
It is said that ongoing pain causes greater human suffering than any other disease. And its affliction is not limited just to adults; children also suffer, with even fewer treatment options available to meet their needs.
Conditions Treated by Ketamine Therapy
CRPS is recognized as a substantial clinical problem with few therapeutic options. But relief does exist. Studies indicate that ongoing ketamine IV infusions can reduce pain for weeks at a time. It’s also shown to improve motor function and reduce disability, meaning it is a beneficial way to mitigate the life-debilitating effects of CRPS.
Ketamine therapy for pain can be used to treat a variety of conditions. Among these is complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a condition marked by stiffness, swelling, burning, and intense pain. Visually, it often causes discoloration and is most common in the hands, arms, feet, and legs. CRPS occurs in three stages: acute, dystrophic, and atrophic.
It is also characterized as type 1 or 2, depending on its cause. Type 1 follows an injury or illness independent of nerve injury; type 2 occurs after damage to a specific nerve. While we understand what causes CRPS, we don’t understand why it happens – meaning we don’t understand why the body responds with ongoing and localized pain.
Pain associated with cancer can be caused by the disease itself or treatments like surgery and chemotherapy. Many times, a growing tumor will place pressure on organs, bones, and nerves. Tumors can also release pain-inducing chemicals, producing sensations that range from burning to tingling to dull aching. These factors only make the disease more difficult to manage.
Studies reveal that using ketamine therapy for pain can ease symptoms and restore quality of life. While many patients continue to need supportive pain medications in addition to ketamine infusions, those medicines can be administered in smaller and fewer doses. Ketamine is also ideal for patients who haven’t previously responded to opioid and NSAID treatments and need alternative therapies.
Pain is a common consequence of spinal cord injuries (SCI) and can occur in parts of the body with normal sensation as well as areas with little or no feeling. In both instances, however, the pain is very real and can seriously impede a patient’s quality of life. Because of the complex connection between mind, body, and spirit, this type of pain also impedes movement, mood, and a patient’s perception of his or her life.
In a study of those with acute pain caused by SCI, IV ketamine infusions produced immediately satisfactory results. Continued treatment served to further enhance those results. By the end of treatment, patients reported their pain had decreased by nearly 97 percent; this led to significant improvements in how patients felt both physically and emotionally.
This complex disorder burdens patients with widespread pain and tenderness, both of which can occur throughout the body or migrate abruptly. This exacts tolls that can be felt mentally, socially, and physically, and with roughly 10 million people afflicted, fibromyalgia is equal parts prevalent and frustrating. Lab tests to rule out or diagnose such co-existing conditions as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus take time and can prolong a patient’s suffering.
While no cure exists for fibromyalgia, multi-disciplinary treatments are usually needed to help manage the wide berth of symptoms. Ketamine is among the most promising of these because it blocks the NMDA receptors. It also leads to synaptic changes in the central nervous system and reduces the activity of the brain’s default mode network. This is a region that continues working even when the mind is at rest, and its hyperconnectivity is linked to chronic pain.
Another illness with no known cure, Crohn’s belongs to the family of inflammatory bowel diseases. It is caused by inflammation in the digestive tract lining and is associated with chronic abdominal pain. Additional symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, and fatigue, all of which relate back to inflammation. Treatment, therefore, focuses on managing these symptoms so patients can return to a sense of normalcy.
Studies confirm Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha (TNF-a) plays a significant part in diseases like Crohn’s. TNF-a is a protein that, when released, signals the body’s inflammatory responses. But ketamine suppresses TNF-a and thus tampers inflammation. This allows the body to heal damaged tissues, meaning IV infusions can reduce the overarching effects of Crohn’s in a way no other treatment has yet shown to be possible.
Chronic Post-Surgical Pain
While pain serves as an expected outcome of surgery, that which persists more than three to six months post-surgery is not considered “normal.” This sort of pain delays recovery, impairs rehabilitation, suppresses immune responses, and diminishes patient satisfaction. It is characterized as feeling different from that which existed before surgery, such as a dull ache throughout the leg instead of a sharp or jabbing pain previously felt only in the knee.
But studies confirm that when used as part of a comprehensive pain management program, ketamine can prevent the onset of chronic post-surgical pain (CPSP). It can also reduce the need for other pain modalities, such as morphine, to improve overall patient outcomes.
Your New Normal
No longer does it have to be normal for you to fight through discomfort each and every day. Ketamine therapy for pain is proven safe and effective in relieving a variety of conditions. Administered in a comfortable environment, this therapy can be all that stands between you and a new normal. Schedule your consultation today by calling Thrive Wellness Now in Oak Brook, IL.