The Spine Pain Research Lab (SPRL) focuses on defining and understanding specific mechanisms of chronic neck pain and linking injury mechanics to the cellular and molecular substrates of persistent pain. Broad applications of our work include preventing, diagnosing, and treating pain and its pathologic syndromes.
Research is currently focused on using mechanistically based models of neck pain to investigate physiologic mechanisms of painful sub-failure tissue injuries. Although neck pain results from a variety of injuries, our work addresses two anatomic sites in generating pain from mechanical injury: compression of the nerve root, and tensile injury to the facet capsule. These are both clinically relevant pain injuries which are produced without tissue failure.
Clinical evidence suggests both types of injury as producing persistent pain. However, the two scenarios initiate very different pathomechanisms. The SPRL focuses on integrating these complementary approaches for understanding neural and ligamentous injuries. Using these models, we utilize a variety of research tools to investigate the relationship between injury biomechanics and spinal immune changes leading to chronic pain. Current studies in the lab implement and integrate a collection of engineering and basic science techniques including: mechanical testing, novel application of imaging approaches, in vivo modeling, immunohistochemistry, PCR, Western Blot, ELISA, and FACS.
Spinal immune activation and CNS plasticity in the spinal cord are potential important regulators in the potentiation of chronic pain. In response to injury, spinal glial activation occurs, followed by cytokine upregulation, and then the direct or indirect release of pain mediators, such as substance P. Central sensitization and chronic pain develop from the aberrant spinal plasticity changes that can be initiated throughout these changes. Work in our lab is directed at understanding these spinal mechanisms and differentiating responses for chronic from acute pain. Currently, we are particularly interested in developing novel techniques to detect such painful injuries and to diagnose them clinically, as well as to develop pharmacological treatments.