Changes in brain associated with chronic back pain
Chronic back pain researcher, Dr James McAuley, was involved in an international study that examined the relationship between chronic back pain and the volume of grey matter in particular areas of the brain.
Chronic back pain is usually associated with significant disability and with changes to the individual’s emotional state, most notably depression. This study compared the volume of grey matter in the brains of 111 people with chronic back pain to 432 healthy controls using a technique called voxel-based morphometry. This non-invasive neuroimaging technique allows researchers to investigate the structure of the brain.
The study found that people with chronic back pain had decreased volume of grey matter in areas of the brain associated with producing pain – for example areas associated with the anticipation and unpleasantness of pain – as well as emotional regulation and with cognitive processing.
“What this tells us is that the brains of people who have had back pain for a long time process everyday experiences differently from those who don’t have pain. This could be contributing to the development and maintenance of back pain,” says Dr McAuley, “We don’t know what causes changes to the structure of the brain, but we hope to find this out in our ongoing studies at NeuRA so that we can open new avenues for treatment.”