A recent study shows chronic back pain shrinks the brain by as much as 11 percent, which is equivalent to the degeneration of 10 to 20 years of aging.
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data and automated analysis techniques, researchers compared the brain images of 26 participants with chronic back pain to those of normal participants. The participants with chronic back pain had unrelenting pain for more than one year.
The study showed that reduction in brain density is related to pain duration, pain-related characteristics, and is more severe in the neuropathic type of pain, which is caused by sciatic nerve damage.
Thus researchers hypothesize that some of the decrease in brain density reflects only tissue shrinkage, which could be reversed with proper treatment. They say it may also be attributed to more irreversible processes like neurodegeneration.