Taking the Ache out of Backache

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Here's new hope for the millions of Americans suffering from chronic pain: A team of University of Minnesota researchers has isolated a small set of neurons on the spinal cords of rats that seem to relay chronic pain, and deactivated them with the neurotoxin saporin. The result: quick and permanent relief of various forms of chronic pain. While it has yet to be tested in primates, researchers hope that this could one day spell permanent relief to migraine sufferers, arthritis patients and sufferers of backaches and creaky joints.

But wait — there's more: Unlike the anti-inflammatory drugs and narcotics currently used to alleviate chronic pain, there are no known side effects. Normally pain is a useful warning signal from our bodies to our brains that something is wrong. But in the case of chronic pain, when our minds are usually well aware of our injuries, or in the case of persistent migraine headaches, the pain is useless to us. But outside of the reputed ability of some Buddhist masters, the majority of us are unable to block out pain, even when it serves no purpose. At least for now.