Professor Monty Silverdale

Parkinson’s pain study breaks new ground

Specialists at Salford Royal have shed new light on the pain experienced by many people with Parkinson’s disease.

The ground breaking study, the largest ever looking at pain in Parkinson’s, could lead to a major shift in the way pain symptoms are managed.

Currently health professionals tend to treat patients with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as paracetamol or co-codamol, which target pain caused by musculoskeletal or mobility problems.

But the research led by Consultant Neurologist Dr Monty Silverdale has shown that pain experienced by people with early/moderate Parkinson’s is not linked to mobility issues or the reduced movement that can come with the condition. Instead, the study of nearly 2,000 people showed that central causes – the brain’s sensitivity to pain – have a much more important role.

Dr Silverdale said: “More than 40 per cent of those who took part in our study reported having moderate to severe pain, much higher than we’d find in the general population, and most had more than one type of pain. Our patients told us that this affected their quality of life more than their mobility symptoms.

“But we found there was no correlation between the pain they experienced and the severity of their mobility problems, such as rigidity, reduced joint movements and poor posture – the symptoms you might expect to cause musculoskeletal pain.

Pain signals

“Instead the study showed that central factors – altered processing in the central nervous system and amplification of pain signals in the brain – play a much larger role. We do have drugs that target this sort of pain – but currently very few people with Parkinson’s are being treated with them.”

About 127,000 people in the UK have Parkinson’s, one person in every 500. It is a degenerative neurological condition, for which there currently is no cure. Its main symptoms are tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity.

Dr Silverdale added: “Pain is a very disabling symptom for many patients with Parkinson’s disease. Studies like this one increase our understanding of pain so in time we can develop improved treatments which will improve quality of life for our patients.

“We are also carrying out research measuring the brain’s response to pain in Parkinson’s disease, working with Professor Anthony Jones and the Human Pain Research Group at Salford Royal and The University of Manchester.  We’ll report back on this soon and taken together, we think these studies will change our understanding of and approach to pain in Parkinson’s.”

The UK Parkinson’s Pain Study was funded by Parkinson’s UK and took place over four years at 68 sites around the UK.