Opioid administration following spinal cord injury: Implications for pain and locomotor recovery

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Abstract

Approximately one-third of people with a spinal cord injury (SCI) will experience persistent neuropathic pain following injury. This pain negatively affects quality of life and is difficult to treat. Opioids are among the most effective drug treatments, and are commonly prescribed, but experimental evidence suggests that opioid treatment in the acute phase of injury can attenuate recovery of locomotor function. In fact, spinal cord injury and opioid administration share several common features (e.g. central sensitization, excitotoxicity, aberrant glial activation) that have been linked to impaired recovery of function, as well as the development of pain. Despite these effects, the interactions between opioid use and spinal cord injury have not been fully explored. A review of the literature, described here, suggests that caution is warranted when administering opioids after SCI. Opioid administration may synergistically contribute to the pathology of SCI to increase the development of pain, decrease locomotor recovery, and leave individuals at risk for infection. Considering these negative implications, it is important that guidelines are established for the use of opioids following spinal cord and other central nervous system injuries.

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