Chronic Back Pain Shrinks Brain
It can reduce gray matter by 11 percent in one year, researchers say
MONDAY, Nov. 22, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Chronic back pain can shrink the gray matter in your brain by as much as 11 percent in one year, the same amount of brain density that's lost in 10 to 20 years of normal aging, says a Northwestern University study.
The research, published in the Nov. 23 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, found that every year of chronic pain results in a loss of 1.3 cubic centimeters of gray matter, the part of your brain that processes memory and information.
Researchers used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other analytic methods to compare brain images of 26 people with chronic back pain and 26 healthy people. All of the people with back pain had suffered unrelenting pain for more than a year.
"Given that, by definition, chronic pain is a state of continuous persistent perception with associated negative affect and stress, one mechanistic explanation for the decreased gray matter is overuse atrophy caused by excitotoxic and inflammatory mechanisms," lead researcher A. Vania Apkarian, an associate professor of physiology, said in a prepared statement.
He and his colleagues said it's possible that some of the gray matter shrinkage in people with chronic back pain occurs without substantial loss of neurons. That suggest that proper treatment could reverse at least some of the gray matter loss.
At least 25 percent of Americans experience back pain, and a quarter of those people suffer chronic and unrelenting back pain.
The American Physical Therapy Association has advice on how to take care of your back.