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

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!


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

More on fibromyal­gia and chron­ic pain

Cog­ni­tive impair­ment symp­toms


About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

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