Most people are not aware that Antidepressants are commonly used in the treatment of physical pain. A new review showed the effectiveness. The Canadian researchers reviewed systematically studies from 1980 to 2014. They found that even in a very physical condition (Spinal Cord Injury) Antidepressants are effective in reducing pain.
Antidepressants are used in pain conditions such as:
• Nerve damage from diabetes (diabetic neuropathy)
• Nerve damage from shingles (postherpetic neuralgia)
• Nerve pain from other causes (peripheral neuropathy, spinal cord injury, stroke, radiculopathy)
• Tension headache
• Facial pain
How do Antidepressants kill the pain?
Antidepressants are known to elevate the mood. The painkilling mechanism still isn’t fully understood. Currently researchers are trying to find an answer. What we know so far:
It is not the elevated mood alone that makes the pain go away. Research showed that the pain relief works also in non-depressed patients. Moreover the pain relief appears earlier than the antidepressant effect.
Most probably it’s the elevated neurotransmitter level that is responsible for the pain relief. Antidepressants are increasing certain neurotransmitter levels. Neurotransmitter are the way of communication between nerve cells. Serotonin is the most known. It is believed that increased neurotransmitters in the spinal cord are able to reduce pain signals. Future research will reveal the exact mechanism.
Important to know:
If your doctor prescribes antidepressants for the treatment of a pain condition, don’t expect them to work like common pain killers. Compared to pain killers like paracetamol or aspirin the effect will appear much later. You may feel some relief from an antidepressant after a week or so, but maximum relief may take several weeks. They are commonly used in combination with other pain killers.