Skeletal injury is a leading cause of chronic pain and long-term disability worldwide. While most acute skeletal pain can be effectively managed with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opiates, chronic skeletal pain is more difficult to control using these same therapy regimens. One possibility as to why chronic skeletal pain is more difficult to manage over time is that there may be nerve sprouting in nonhealed areas of the skeleton that normally receive little (mineralized bone) to no (articular cartilage) innervation. If such ectopic sprouting did occur, it could result in normally nonnoxious loading of the skeleton being perceived as noxious and/or the generation of a neuropathic pain state. To explore this possibility, a mouse model of skeletal pain was generated by inducing a closed fracture of the femur. Examined animals had comminuted fractures and did not fully heal even at 90+ days post fracture. In all mice with nonhealed fractures, exuberant sensory and sympathetic nerve sprouting, an increase in the density of nerve fibers, and the formation of neuroma-like structures near the fracture site were observed. Additionally, all of these animals exhibited significant pain behaviors upon palpation of the nonhealed fracture site. In contrast, sprouting of sensory and sympathetic nerve fibers or significant palpation- induced pain behaviors was never observed in naïve animals. Understanding what drives this ectopic nerve sprouting and the role it plays in skeletal pain may allow a better understanding and treatment of this currently difficult-to-control pain state.
- Chronic pain
- Sensory and sympathetic nerve fibers
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology
- Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine