How do painkillers work?

How do painkillers work?


When your body suffers an injury, a special type of nerve receptors in your skin send messages to the brain. Painkillers, as the name suggests, are types of medicines that help you treat and alleviate physical pain. What they do is actually not treat the injury but rather interfere with the enzymes and proteins that cause the perception of pain. They come in various forms and sizes, and can be taken by mouth in liquid, tablet or capsule form, by injection, or via the rectum (also known as back passage). Some painkillers are also available as creams or ointment.

In general, there are three main types of painkillers, according to their mechanism of work. Some of them, such as aspirin and opiates are based on naturally occurring drugs, while others are synthesized artificially.

The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, work by inhibiting the action of enzymes, known as cyclooxygenase enzymes. The latter are associated with the production of other chemicals, which in turn are involved in the production of pain and inflammation at the site of the injury. By blocking the action of these enzymes, the NSAIDS reduce the feeling of pain. NSAIDS drugs include aspirin (based on a chemical found in the willow bark), ibuprofen and naproxen. They’re also very effective in reducing the swelling or inflammation, and reduce the pain caused by arthritis and sore throat.

Paracetamol is an analgesic medicine that is freely available over-the counter and can be purchased without a receipt. It’s also used to control the fever, and is very effective in alleviating all kinds of pain, including headache, sprain or toothache. It affects the chemicals, known as prostaglandins (the ones that are associated with the perception of pain). By blocking them directly, Paracetamol makes the body less aware of the pain or injury. In general, Paracetamol is a safe medicine that can be used by children as well, but might be harmful to people with liver and kidney problems, or alcohol dependence.

Opioids are the third different type of painkillers and are based on naturally occurring drugs – chemicals, derived from the opium poppy. They attach themselves to protein receptors, known as opioid receptors, found in the brain, spinal cord, and many of the body organs. Once they’ve attached, they can reduce the perception of pain. Side effects, however, include drowsiness, confusion, constipation, and, if the dose is not measured properly, can even result in depressed respiration. Opioids also act directly on the reward circuit of the brain by flooding it with dopamine, which produces a feeling of ecstasy and might further help with alleviating severe pain. They’re strictly prescription medications and include drugs such as codeine, fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone and methadone. All of them act by relieving your pain and relaxing the muscles, mimicking your body’s own painkillers. However, since they’re incredibly potent, they’re also very addictive and should be treated with caution.

The type of painkillers you’re prescribed will largely depend on the type and severity of your pain. NSAIDs are generally prescribed, if there’s an inflammation present but are also not suitable if you have stomach ulcers. Weak opioids might be prescribed if you’re suffering from severe pain that is not affected by paracetamol or ibuprofen. Stronger, however, are only used in extreme cases, such as cancer-related pain or post-operative pain.

What is hypnosis?

What is hypnosis?


Hypnosis, as defined by the American Psychology Association, is a set of techniques that can alter a person’s thoughts, feelings and behavior. Hypnosis works by enhancing concentration and minimizing distraction, as well as heightening one’s responsiveness to suggestions, made during the process.

The term “hypnosis” first appeared in 1853 in “Neurypnology”, a book by the Scottish physician James Braid. He defined it as a “peculiar condition of the nervous system” and argued that it was some sort of nervous sleep.

It’s a widespread misconception that hypnosis is a form of sleep. In fact, recent neuroimaging experiments show that hypnotized people’s brain activity is a form of consciousness on its own. When under hypnosis, brain activity changes to a particular and unique pattern, including reduced activity in the default mode network and increased activity in the prefrontal areas, responsible for attention. So, hypnotized people don’t “sleep” in the literal sense of the world – they’re, in fact, quite alert and awake.

To put it simply, hypnosis works by decreasing your attention span and thus, making you more susceptible to suggestions and induced thoughts.

Hypnosis is not a treatment on its own, but is used as a combination with other treatments to facilitate the success of a therapy. Researchers are certain that hypnosis can help with a number of psychological and physiological conditions, and especially pain relief and management. The so-called hypno-analgesia is a form of pain management treatment that can decrease patients’ sensitivity and thus, alleviate their pain. The link between hypnosis and perception has been studied excessively and it’s now certain that therapists can induce altered sensations into hypnotized people. A famous study involved patients, hypnotized to think that their limbs are getting heavier and more difficult to move. The induction was so strong that it produced total limb paralysis!

Of course, people differ in their degree of responsiveness. Susceptibility to hypnosis is a highly heritable trait and is linked to the degree of creativity, empathy and fantasy proneness. In some cases, hypnosis therapy might be extremely helpful, while in other might not produce any result at all.

But how does hypnosis actually work?

Hypnosis is widely used in cognitive-behavioral therapy to deal with psychological issues such as depression, anxiety or phobias. It can reduce the level of distress in patients and help them enter a more relaxed state. The mechanism is simple: it involves the therapist, creating a state of inner calmness and concentration and focusing the patient’s attention to a particular feeling, thought or behavior. It’s extremely useful not only in cases of pain sensitivity, but also for regression therapy – “bringing” patients back in time to deal with unresolved conflicts or traumatic memory.

The link between hypnosis and memories is, in fact, largely speculated and widely researched. The reality is quite different than what we’re used to seeing in movies or big screen (sorry, no walking zombies). Media presents the hypnosis as an eerie state in which people seem to lose their free will, as their minds get completely under the control of the hypnotist.

Hypnosis is indeed a powerful tool and a vast body of evidence suggests that therapist can in fact induce false or distorted memories in their patients. This lead to several countries, including Canada, to introduce a new law that post-hypnosis evidence would not be admissible in court.

To illustrate, a fascinating experiment involved hypnotizing participants, induced to see colorful Mondrian images in grey. Their subsequent brain scans showed altered activity in the brain regions that are responsible for seeing colour.

What is acupuncture?

What is acupuncture?


Acupuncture is a form of alternative medical treatment that uses needles to pin point places of acupuncture in the body. Its uses of origin date back over 2,500 years.

Beginning in ancient china, the theory of acupuncture is that illness and body pain are a result of imbalanced energy flow in the body. By using needles in a particular combination (determined by the practitioner) and placing them at various depths throughout the 350 places of acupuncture in the body (referred to as “Meridians”), these points of pressure are then stimulated, thus restoring balance of energy in the body.

The use of acupuncture is widely practiced throughout the world, however, because of a lack of scientific evidence to back up its methods and results, some modern western doctors are more skeptical and reluctant to use or recommend this form of treatment.

However, according to an article published in the “British Medical Journal” in 2009, one Doctor White claims that acupuncture and its uses are rooted deeply in science and the idea that you need to have a great understanding of the philosophical origins (such as “Chi” and “Meridians”), are unnecessary to the use and application of the process.


He is quoted as saying:

“In the past it was easy for doctors and scientists to dismiss acupuncture as ‘highly implausible’ when its workings were couched in talk of chi and meridians. But it becomes very plausible when explained in terms of neurophysiology.”

White argues that there are over 30 years of scientific evidence that support his claims that acupuncture is more than a mysterious and ancient foreign technique, and that its use actually stimulates the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, which then release chemicals into the brain (such as the feel-good chemical serotonin) causing us to feel better.

Regardless of the argument between those who believe it is rooted in science, and those who believe it is instead rooted in ancient tradition and theory, its use is widely popular and widely practiced for a reason.


What are the uses of acupuncture?


The illnesses and medical conditions that acupuncture is used to treat are widely varied. There are over 30 different medical conditions that I discovered upon my research into the practice that acupuncture has been or is currently being used to treat. Among these conditions are: digestive problems, musculoskeletal ailments, repertory difficulties, neurological disorders, gynecological issues (such and infertility), emotional conditions, and even obesity, to name a few.

Of course there are many sub categories along with the main categories listed above, but to save time, I will include a reference of all medical conditions currently treated using acupuncture in the reference list at the end of this article.

Not every condition that one may use acupuncture for, is treated the same way. While needles are the main method of pin pointing the nerves in your body, some practitioner’s also use heated stones, suction, electromagnetic energy, or even placebo needles.

One study of over 200 cancer patients that were currently undergoing chemo therapy, proved that acupuncture can be just as effective without the use of needles. Half of the patients received traditional acupuncture treatment, while the remaining half received simulated acupuncture treatment. Instead of using the traditional thin needles to puncture the skin, the patients who received the simulated acupuncture were treated with “a telescopic blunt placebo needle” that only touched their skin and did not pierce them.

Although the two groups received different versions of acupuncture, both groups had overwhelmingly positive results. Over 95% of patients from both sets, reported feeling less nauseated by chemo therapy. Additionally, 67% of all of the patients expressed other positive results as well. Such as, better sleep, less pain, and improved mood.


What are the benefits of acupuncture?

As widely varied are the uses of acupuncture, so are the benefits of its uses.

From emotional to physical, the use of acupuncture improves the state of a human greatly.

We already know that the science behind acupuncture proves that its uses stimulate our nerves which then send positive chemicals into the brain. Similar or the same as those released during exercise, these chemicals then cause us to feel happier, thus improving upon such conditions as depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, nervousness, etc. Physically, the benefits are even more outstanding.

Depending on the condition you are seeking to treat with acupuncture, and the severity of that condition, you may experience more, or less treatments per month or week than somebody else also being treated with acupuncture.

To give exact benefits of acupuncture to the body is a bit more difficult than to specify the benefits emotionally, because it simply depends on the type of treatment your practitioner will be administering.

The physical benefits may include any number of the following: lower blood pressure, increased fertility, weight-loss, allergy relief, nausea relief, decreased amount of migraines or headaches, stronger immune system, menopausal symptom relief, arthritis control, sports related injuries being improved, and pain management.

While there are many benefits to the treatment, there are also a few side effects to the treatment that one should consider. The main ones I came across were potential puncturing of the lung, or the transmission of hepatitis, risks for both can be brought down dramatically by choosing an experienced and well-trained acupuncture specialist.

Overall, acupuncture is a safe and effective way to try to eliminate or improve on a variety of medical conditions and with very few potential side-effects involved in the treatment, and with a variety of treatment options associated with acupuncture (for those more fearful of needles), there is no reason to be suffering and not at least ask your doctor or health care provider about trying acupuncture for yourself.



For further reading, the above mentioned articles or references can be found at these links:,P00171/