NeuRA Magazine #20

SLEEP AND BACK PAIN

A new study that seeks to find improved ways to deal with back pain seeks participants.

Edel O’Hagan with a volunteer

Back pain researchers at NeuRA know that there is a shared relationship between sleep and pain. Typically, the higher the pain intensity the worse a person sleeps. Conversely, after a few bad nights’ sleep a person with lower back pain may perceive their pain to be even worse.

PhD student and physiotherapist Edel O’Hagan is currently working on a study that investigates whether using a medication, usually used for sleep disturbances can help people with acute back pain – that is, pain that has lasted less than three months.

“In this trial we are investigating whether improving sleep has a knock-on effect on improving lower back pain intensity,” she explains.

The medication used in the study acts on a neurotransmitter called GABA, which has a number of roles in the brain, but is primarily involved in calming overexcited neurons, such as those involved in transmitting pain.

The procedure involves a visit to NeuRA, where participants are reviewed by a physician and given the intervention tablets – either a sleep medication or a sugar pill. They take one tablet a night for 14 nights. Over this time participants keep a sleep diary and wear a monitor on their back to measure movements during sleep. They will also fill out questionnaires, online on day one, at two weeks and at six weeks.

“Participants don’t need to change anything they are currently doing to manage their back pain,” Edel assures.

It is hoped that this research will identify a new way to stop low back pain from developing into a long-term chronic condition.

Edel, who is part of the McAuley group, is looking to recruit more patients for the study. To get involved, email pain@neura.edu.au or call 02 9399 1618.

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