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A pain in the neck: King’s College researchers tackle MS pain

Hannah Paull

Fatigue, vision problems, trouble walking – the symptoms of MS are varied and unpredictable. But what about pain?

A team of researchers from King’s College London thought it was about time we understood more about the effects of pain on people affected by MS.

The effects of pain

Pain affects around two-thirds of people with MS, but there’s currently not enough evidence to prove that drug treatments are helpful. As a result, a research team at King’s College London decided to create a study called: 'Beyond a physical symptom: the importance of psychosocial factors in multiple sclerosis pain'.

This very study showed that while pain may be triggered by biological factors, mental and social factors can potentially worsen pain in MS over time. This interesting discovery could potentially offer a different approach to treatment and help ease pain in for people with MS.

Hearing your stories

The King’s College team spoke to 608 people with MS to discover whether distress and negative beliefs about MS can affect levels of pain, and how much it affects a person’s day-to-day activities.

The research was part of a PhD project by Dr Anthony Harrison from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience. He described it as “a coming together of experts” who wanted to focus on different kinds of therapy related to MS. The investigation also built on another interview study where the team had asked people with MS about how they manage pain.

The MS Awards

Dr Harrison’s research impressed the MS Awards 2016 judges so much that they shortlisted him for researcher of the year.

He said: “I am truly honoured and flattered. I am aware that pain can be a high priority for many people with MS. In the past the focus has predominantly been on understanding and treating MS fatigue or depression, but more recently biomedical and psychosocial research has attempted to better understand MS pain.

“We thought it was timely that people with MS should benefit from effective psychological treatments used in other chronic pain conditions. I’m proud we stepped into this research area to highlight the impact of pain, and am hopeful our treatments will give people with MS new skills to better manage this troublesome symptom in the future.”

A word of thanks

The researcher also offered a word of thanks to all those who took part in the project:

“We would like to thank all participants taking part in our studies who gave up their time, offered kind words of support for the programme, and shared their stories with me. We feel privileged and touched.”

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