May 22, 2024

Pain Patches: A New Way to Manage Chronic Pain

Pain is an unpleasant feeling that serves as a warning of serious problems in our bodies. Acute pain starts suddenly due to an injury or problem and usually resolves over time as the body heals. Chronic pain persists for months or even years. Approximately 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain. Conventional pain medications often cause side effects or become less effective over time for chronic conditions. Pain patches offer an alternative way to manage chronic pain that may have fewer side effects than oral medicines.

How Do They Work?
Pain patches contain medication that is delivered through the skin and into the bloodstream. The active medication in pain patches is typically a type of numbing agent known as lidocaine or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen. When applied to intact skin, these medications are absorbed into the blood vessels located underneath. From there, they travel through the circulatory system to reach pain-causing sites anywhere in the body.

Different Types of Patches
A variety of patch formulations exist containing different medications for diverse types of pain:

– Lidocaine patches work by blocking sodium channels in the outer layers of skin and nerves. They are used primarily to treat postherpetic neuralgia (nerve pain after shingles) and diabetic neuropathy pain in the feet and hands.

– Diclofenac patches contain an NSAID to relieve muscle and joint pain from conditions like arthritis. They are applied directly over painful areas.

– Fentanyl patches slowly release opioid medication fentanyl through the skin for around 3 days. Used for moderate to severe chronic pain including cancer pain.

– Lidocaine/prilocaine patches contain both a numbing agent and local anesthetic. Meant to treat localized area pain like hemorrhoids.

Benefits over Oral Medications
Some key advantages pain patches have over oral pain relievers include:

– Precise targeting of medication – Patches apply medication directly to areas needing pain relief rather than exposing the entire body through digestion. This allows use of lower medication doses with potentially fewer side effects.

– Steadier dose levels – Oral medications have peaks and valleys in blood levels as they are absorbed and eliminated from the body. Patches provide a slow, steady release of medication for consistent coverage over hours or days.

– Avoidance of digestive issues – Swallowing pills can cause stomach upset, especially with long-term NSAID use. Patches prevent first-pass metabolism through the liver that can reduce bioavailability of oral drugs.

– Good adherence – Many patients have difficulties remembering to take multiple daily pills. Weekly patches provide simple dosing that may increase medication adherence critical for effective chronic pain control.

Drawbacks and Proper Use
While pain patches offer advantages, there are also some potential limitations and proper usage guidelines:

– Skin irritation – Some individuals may experience itching, redness, or swelling at application sites, especially with prolonged use. Rotating patch locations can help reduce this risk.

– Cost – Patches tend to be more expensive than generic oral medications, so they may not be suitable for all patients or conditions. Insurance coverage varies widely.

– Limited conditions treated – Not all types of pain respond effectively to patch therapies. Best suitability is for localized, well-defined pain areas that can be directly targeted.

– Application instructions – Patches should not be placed near eyes or mouth. Hands should be washed after application. Only remove old patches after applying new ones to avoid interruption of medication delivery.

Future Advancements
Given their non-invasiveness and convenience over pills, patch therapies will likely continue growing more sophisticated. Areas researchers are exploring include:

– Multi-medication patches – Combining multiple pain medications into one patch could even more precisely target multiple pain mechanisms at once.

– Transdermal drug delivery systems – Patches incorporating technologies like microneedles, thin-film drug reservoirs, and iontophoresis may increase rate and amounts of medication delivered through the skin.

– Wireless sensor patches – Future “smart patches” could incorporate sensors monitoring a patient’s vital signs, pain levels, and medication effects to optimize treatment in real-time through wireless connectivity to physicians.

For those seeking an alternative to oral pain medications, especially patients with chronic conditions requiring long-term relief, pain patches represent an increasingly important option. Though not suitable for all pain types or individuals, patches provide non-invasive pain management through slow, steady medication delivery directly to sites needing treatment. With ongoing refinements, patch therapies are poised to expand our options for effectively controlling pain with fewer side effects.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it