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Study Links Chronic Back Pain To Brain Shrinkage


In a recent study presented at the American Pain Society in Chicago researchers outlined evidence indicating that people with chronic back pain experience a shrinking of the “thinking” part of the brain involved in emotional assessments and decision-making.

The study was the result of ongoing research carried out by Dr. A. Vania Apkarian at Northwestern University in Chicago. In previous research Dr. Apkarian discovered changes in the gray matter of the brain in people who experienced chronic back pain. Gray matter contains the cells that are involved in processing information and memory and make up the largest portion of the brain.

In this current study Apkarian and his research team measured the brains of ten people with chronic back pain and compared them to twenty people who did not have chronic back pain. The measurements indicated a decrease in size and density of gray matter tissue in general and also in the part of the brain called the thalamus. He has even more current data in a study yet to be published indicating that chronic pain sufferers exhibit a very specific decline in emotional decision-making ability.

At this stage of Dr. Apkarian’s research it is not possible to determine the nature of the relationship between chronic back pain and the changes in brain tissue. It could be that if the tissue continues to shrink with continued chronic back pain then it is possible that the shrinkage is caused by the back pain. Such a finding would signal the importance of finding ways to resolve chronic back pain in the population.

1) McKinney, Merritt. “Back Pain Linked To Brian Shrinkage- Study.” Online Posting. 22 March 2003"

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