A Recent National Intitute of Health (NIH) Study Provides Insights Into Chronic Pain
The structure of the brain may predict whether a person will suffer chronic low back pain, according to researchers who used brain scans. The results, published in the journal Pain, support the growing idea that the brain plays a critical role in chronic pain, a concept that may lead to changes in the way doctors treat patients. The research was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health. "We may have found an anatomical marker for chronic pain in the brain," said Vania Apkarian, Ph.D., a senior author of the study and professor of physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Chronic pain affects nearly 100 million Americans and costs the United States up to $635 billion per year to treat. According to the Institute of Medicine, an independent research organization, chronic pain affects a growing number of people.
In this study, the researchers used a scanning technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) which measures the structure of white matter, the nerve cell wires, or axons, which connect brain cells in different parts of the brain. They found a consistent difference in white matter between the subjects who recovered and the subjects who experienced pain throughout the year. "Our results suggest that the structure of a person's brain may predispose one to chronic pain," said Dr. Apkarian.