A new study by researchers from McGill University and colleagues in Italy has found that using anti-inflammatories and steroids to treat pain could increase the chances of developing chronic pain, according to Science Daily.

The study findings, published in Science Translational Medicine, raise questions about the conventional practice of using steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate pain.

Study author Prof. Jeffrey Mogil said, “For many decades it’s been standard medical practice to treat pain with anti-inflammatory drugs. But we found that this short-term fix could lead to longer-term problems.”

The researchers examined the pain mechanisms in both humans and mice and found that neutrophils – one of the white blood cells (WBCs) that helps the body fight infection – play a key role in resolving pain.

Another author Prof. Luda Diatchenko said, “In analyzing the genes of people suffering from lower back pain, we observed active changes in genes over time in people whose pain went away. Changes in the blood cells and their activity seemed to be the most important factor, especially in cells called neutrophils.”

“Neutrophils dominate the early stages of inflammation and set the stage for repair of tissue damage,” Prof. Mogil said. “Inflammation occurs for a reason, and it looks like it’s dangerous to interfere with it.”

The authors said experimentally blocking neutrophils in mice prolonged the pain up to ten times the normal duration. Although anti-inflammatories and steroids such as diclofenac and dexamethasone were effective at treating pain early on, they produced the same result found in mice.

The current findings also support a separate analysis of 500,000 people in the UK, which showed that those taking anti-inflammatory drugs for pain were more likely to have chronic pain two to ten years later.

Dr. Massimo Allegri of the Policlinico of Monza Hospital in Italy said, “Our findings suggest it may be time to reconsider the way we treat acute pain. Luckily pain can be killed in other ways that don’t involve interfering with inflammation.”

Prof. Diatchenko said, “We discovered that pain resolution is actually an active biological process. These findings should be followed up by clinical trials directly comparing anti-inflammatory drugs to other pain killers that relieve aches and pains but don’t disrupt inflammation.”