Chronic Pain Shrinks Your Brain

I came across an important article on chronic pain by a colleague, Craig Roberts, D.C., which I’d like to share with you here.

His article connects two important ideas:

  1. The multidimensional aspects of chronic pain. Chronic pain is not just a sensation you experience, but a spectrum of changes across many body systems, including the brain, and
  2. The increasingly recognized role for spinal manipulation in the alleviation of chronic spinal pain.

Here is the text of his article.  I’ve added links that point you to the original research.  And here’s a link back to his very extensive site docroberts.com

Chronic Pain Shrinks Your Brain & What to Do About It 

Chronic back pain leads to a number of problems—people with chronic pain are more likely to die of cancer, have a depressed immune system, are more likely to experience anxiety and depression, and their brains actually shrink!

Lest you think this is the babbling of a fanatical chiropractor, check out the research study in The Journal of Neuroscience, November 17th, 2004, entitled “Chronic Back Pain Is Associated with Decreased Prefrontal and Thalamic Gray Matter Density” (gray matter is the “thinking” part of your brain).

The researchers found a direct relationship between duration and intensity of chronic back pain and brain shrinkage!   The authors state, “Given that whole-brain gray matter atrophy is 0.5% per year of aging and that atrophy caused by chronic low back pain is 5-11%, the magnitude of brain gray matter atrophy caused by chronic back pain is equivalent to 10-20 years of aging.” 

This means that just by having chronic back pain (defined as pain lasting more than 6 months) you age your brain 10-20 years beyond normal brain aging!

The question that logically follows; “How do I stop chronic pain?”

A major study in the journal Spine (the leading orthopedic journal in the world) compared chiropractic, medication (Celebrex or Vioxx and Tylenol), and acupuncture to determine effectiveness in treating chronic spinal pain.  Chiropractic was found to be more than 5 times more effective than medication, and 3 times more effective than acupuncture.  It is also worth noting that while 6.1% of patients in the medication group experienced “adverse events” (side-effects), no patients in the chiropractic group experienced adverse events (Spine 2003 Jul 15;28(14):1490-502).

One year later a follow-up study was done on these same patients.  Only the patients receiving chiropractic care had maintained the benefit that they achieved during the study—both the medication and acupuncture groups drifted back to pre-treatment status.  In addition to having less pain, the chiropractic patients had a large improvement in an assessment of overall health and well-being.  The authors noted that the patients that remained chronic had impaired immune function.

They concluded that of the treatments studied, only chiropractic resulted in significant and long-term benefit (J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2005;28:3-11).

In Summary:

  • Chronic back pain ages your brain 10-20 years via shrinkage (I think many politicians must have chronic pain).
  • Chronic back pain impairs the immune system and leads to an increased risk of cancer.
  • Chiropractic care is an extremely effective treatment for chronic back/neck pain.  Going beyond just treating pain, chiropractic allows full, healthy expression of your immune system and your nervous system.  Your nervous system controls literally every organ and process in your body!

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About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods. His website, askdrlavine.com, provides more information about his approach. Please contact him at drlavine@yourbodyofknowledge.com or at 212-400-9663.
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