Chronic Pain Causes Shrinkage of the Brain

Chronic Back Pain is Associated with Decreased Prefrontal and Thalamic Gray Matter Density. Apkarian V, Sosa Y, et al.  The J. of Neuroscience, Nov 2004, 24(46):10410-10415

From the abstract: “We compared brain morphology of 26 chronic back pain (CBP) patients to matched control subjects, using magnetic resonance imaging brain scan data and automated analysis techniques.”

“Patients with CBP showed 5-11% less neocortical gray matter volume than control subjects.  The magnitude of this decrease is equivalent to the gray matter volume lost in 10- 20 years of normal aging. The decreased volume was related to pain duration, indicating a 1.3 cm3 loss of gray matter for every year of chronic pain.”

“Our results imply that CBP is accompanied by brain atrophy and suggest that the pathophysiology of chronic pain includes thalamocortical processes.”

What does this article say? This paper examined the brains of patients with and without chronic low back pain.  It did this with the use of an MRI study that compared the volume of grey matter of the two groups.  The grey matter is the portion of the brain that contains the neuron cell bodies, your brain cells.  The study found the people suffering from chronic low back pain had 5-11% less grey matter, indicating brain shrinkage.

What else did they find? The researchers also found that the longer the person had lived with chronic pain, the more shrinkage of brain matter had occurred.  They found that the amount lost was 1.3 cm3 of brain matter for every year of chronic pain – a cube a centimeter wide on each side!  For the group they studied, this was the equivalent of ten to twenty years of premature aging for the group that was living with chronic pain.

What does this mean? Chronic pain is not something to ignore.  Do not ignore your health problems or simply hope that they will go away.  Find out what you need to do to address the cause of your problem that is resulting in you being in constant pain.

To whom do I pass this on to? Anyone who suffers from chronic pain.  Give them this review and then hand them a resource from our office.  Try a DVD from the lending library, invite them to a workshop, or bring them into the office to personally pick up a referral coupon and schedule an appointment to find out how they can start getting healthy again.

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