PainSci summary of Flaten 1999?This page is one of thousands in the PainScience.com bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided at the bottom of the page, as often as possible. ★★★★☆4-star ratings are for bigger/better studies and reviews published in more prestigious journals, with only quibbles. Ratings are a highly subjective opinion, and subject to revision at any time. If you think this paper has been incorrectly rated, please let me know.
How much does the effect of a medication depend on what you are told about it? Quite a bit, apparently! This strange and fascinating study in Psychosomatic Medicine showed that a muscle relaxant actually increases tension when the patient is told (lied to) that it is actually a stimulant. The false information is so potent — or the drug is so weak — that its intended effect is actually reversed.
It’s like a Jedi mind trick. These aren’t the drugs you’re looking for.
But the reverse was not true: even when told that they were taking a muscle relaxant (and they were), subjects did not actually relax any more than people taking a placebo … and in some cases less!
And there’s more. This study contains many odd gems, such as the bizarre fact that quite a lot more muscle relaxant was found in the blood of people who had been told that the muscle relaxant was a muscle relaxant. It appears that they literally soaked up more of the stuff from the GI tract when they believed that it was a relaxant! And yet it still didn’t actually relax them any more than a placebo.
original abstract†Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.
OBJECTIVE: Administration of the muscle relaxant carisoprodol and placebo was crossed with information that was agonistic or antagonistic to the effect of carisoprodol. It was investigated whether information alone induced physiological and psychological responses, and whether information modified the response to the drug.
METHODS: Half of the subjects received capsules containing 525 mg carisoprodol together with information that the drug acted in a specific way (Groups Relaxant/C, Stimulant/C, and No Information/C). The other half of the subjects received lactose (Groups Relaxant/L, Stimulant/L, and No Information/L). Dependent variables were blink reflexes and skin conductance responses, subjective measures of tension and sleepiness, and serum carisoprodol and meprobamate concentrations. Recordings were made between 15 and 130 minutes after administration of the capsules.
RESULTS: The Stimulant/L group reported more tension compared with the other two groups, and carisoprodol increased tension even more in the Stimulant/C group. The Relaxant/C group displayed higher levels of carisoprodol serum concentration compared with the other groups that received carisoprodol.
CONCLUSIONS: Reported tension was modulated in the direction suggested by the stimulant information. The effect of carisoprodol on tension was also modulated by stimulant information. Increased carisoprodol absorption in the group that received relaxant information could be a mechanism in the placebo response.
These six articles on PainScience.com cite Flaten 1999 as a source:
- PS Trigger Points & Myofascial Pain Syndrome — A guide to the unfinished science of muscle pain, with reviews of every theory and self-treatment and therapy option
- PS Save Yourself from Low Back Pain! — Low back pain myths debunked and all your treatment options reviewed
- PS Complete Guide to Headaches — Detailed, readable, science-based self-help for tension headaches and other common musculoskeletal headaches
- PS Save Yourself from Neck Pain! — A complete guide to chronic neck pain and the disturbing sensation of a “crick”
- PS Frozen Shoulder Guide — An extremely detailed & readable guide to one of the strangest of all common musculoskeletal problems, for both patients and pros
- PS Cramps, Spasms, Tremors & Twitches — The biology and treatment of unwanted muscle contractions
This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights:
- Effectiveness of customised foot orthoses for Achilles tendinopathy: a randomised controlled trial. Munteanu 2015 Br J Sports Med.
- A Bayesian model-averaged meta-analysis of the power pose effect with informed and default priors: the case of felt power. Gronau 2017 Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology.
- The neck and headaches. Bogduk 2014 Neurol Clin.
- Agreement of self-reported items and clinically assessed nerve root involvement (or sciatica) in a primary care setting. Konstantinou 2012 Eur Spine J.
- Effect of NSAIDs on Recovery From Acute Skeletal Muscle Injury: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Morelli 2017 Am J Sports Med.