Botulinum toxin for pain

Roberto Casale, Valeria Tugnoli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Botulinum toxin (BTX) injection is being increasingly used 'off label' in the management of chronic pain. Data support the hypothesis of a direct analgesic effect of BTX, different to that exerted on muscle. Although the pain-reducing effect of BTX is mainly due to its ability to block acetylcholine release at the synapse, other effects on the nervous system are also thought to be involved. BTX affects cholinergic transmission in both the somatic and the autonomic nervous systems. Proposed mechanisms of action of BTX for pain relief of trigger points, muscular spasms, fibromyalgia and myofascial pain include direct action on muscle and indirect effects via action at the neuromuscular junction. Invitro and invivo data have shown that BTX has specific antinociceptive activity relating to its effects on inflammation, axonal transport, ganglion inhibition, and spinal and suprasegmental level inhibition. Our review of the mechanisms of action, efficacy, administration techniques and therapeutic dosage of BTX for the management of chronic pain in a variety of conditions shows that although muscular tone and movement disorders remain the most important therapeutic applications for BTX, research suggests that BTX can also provide benefits related to effects on cholinergic control of the vascular system, autonomic function, and cholinergic control of nociceptive and antinociceptive systems. Furthermore, it appears that BTX may influence the peripheral and central nervous systems. The therapeutic potential of BTX depends mainly on the ability to deliver the toxin to the target structures, cholinergic or otherwise. Evidence suggests that BTX can be administered at standard dosages in pain disorders, where the objective is alteration of muscle tone. For conditions requiring an analgesic effect, the optimal therapeutic dosage of BTX remains to be defined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-27
Number of pages17
JournalDrugs in R and D
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Botulinum toxin, therapeutic use
  • Pain, management
  • Pain, treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology

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  • Cite this

    Casale, R., & Tugnoli, V. (2008). Botulinum toxin for pain. Drugs in R and D, 9(1), 11-27.