Hot research in post-surgery pain relief

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: January 2nd, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Biting into a hot chili pepper is typically a pretty painful experience. But the same substance that sets your mouth afire could help reduce pain after surgery.

Researchers are experimenting with some less-than-traditional methods to ease pain following surgery without serious side effects. In one study, doctors gave patients a purified form of capsaicin [cap-say-ih-sin], the substance that gives chili peppers their bite. In the other, patients were given nicotine patches, traditionally used by smokers to help them kick the habit.

In the first study, Danish researchers found that purified capsaicin provided three days of pain relief for men who were recovering from hernia surgery.

The researchers placed one-thousand milligrams of capsaicin directly into the wounds of twenty men during surgery. They compared the patient’s postoperative pain with levels of pain reported by another twenty men who received a placebo. Men who received capsaicin reported significantly lower pain scores during the three days after surgery.

In the second study, Duke University researchers gave ninety nonsmoking men who were undergoing prostate removal surgery either a nicotine patch or a placebo patch before the procedure.

Men with the nicotine patches needed less morphine to control their pain in the twenty-four hours after surgery than those whose patches didn’t contain nicotine. And the nicotine had the added benefit of relieving pain without the narcotic effects of morphine.

Researchers are testing capsaicin and nicotine for other forms of pain relief as well. You might say it’s a topic that’s continuing to… heat up.