Background: Neuropathic pain after nerve injury is severe and intractable, and current drug and non-drug therapies offer very limited pain relief. Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO 2) has been clinically used for protection of the nervous system after acute injury. We investigated whether HBO 2 treatment could prevent and/or attenuate neuropathic pain in animals and in patients.
Methods: Mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia and neurochemical alterations of neuropathic pain were analysed in male, adult, Sprague-Dawley rats with sciatic nerve injury. Clinical trials were conducted in patients with idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia.
Results: Repetitive HBO 2 treatment [a combination of pressure at 3 atmosphere absolute (ATA) and pure oxygen] greatly inhibited behavioural signs of neuropathic pain manifested as thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia. Such an HBO 2 treatment also inhibited nerve injury-induced induction of c-Fos and activation of astrocytes and increased phosphorylation of NR2B receptor and the subsequent Ca 2+-dependent signals in rats. Neither high pressure (up to 3 ATA) nor pure oxygen alone resulted in analgesic effect. In clinical trials, one course of HBO 2 therapy (10 consecutive days) produced a rapid-onset, dose-dependent and long-lasting analgesic effects evidenced by the decreased doses of carbamazepine required for keeping patient pain at a minimum and decreased scores of visual analogue scales, which was used for patient's self-evaluation.
Conclusions: These findings support that HBO 2 therapy is an effective approach for treating neuropathic pain in both animals and human beings and suggest that neural protection, anti-inflammation and inhibition of nerve injury-induced altered neural activity may contribute to the analgesic effect of HBO 2 therapy.
© 2012 European Federation of International Association for the Study of Pain Chapters.