Chronic Pain Shrinks the Brain

Written by Dr. James Haxton

As we all know, pain is something human beings are not too fond of and usually avoid if we have a choice. But millions of us suffer from pain on a daily basis with no hope in sight.

Drawing of a Brain with Right side splashed in color and the left side in mathematical formulas. Chronic pain shrinks the brain.

Research has Proven that Pain Shrinks our Brains

 

An article published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2004 conveyed that chronic pain actually shrinks the gray matter in your brain. More specifically it shrinks the prefrontal cortex which houses your personality, motivation and everything that makes you human. It also shrinks an area that analyzes all sensory information coming into your body, the thalamus. The one sentence I found extremely interesting was this: “Given that normal whole-brain gray matter atrophy is 0.5% per year of aging and that atrophy caused by chronic pain is 5-11%, the magnitude of brain gray matter atrophy caused by chronic pain is equivalent to 10-20 years of aging.” Wow! Pain can actually age your brain by up to two decades! This aging of the brain has been linked to depression, anxiety, headaches, and even Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease

The moral of the story here is to get treatment for your chronic pain or literally risk losing your mind. Did you know that athletes have a higher pain tolerance? This is because the act of exercising actually makes areas in your brain that control pain, stronger. It may seem like common sense at this point to exercise but it’s such an important aspect in our lives for so many reasons. Please consult your doctor for advice before starting any exercise program.

The article I was referencing above can be found below but be warned it is a bit technical. Also keep in mind that this article is referencing low back pain but the exact same neurological changes can be seen with really any chronic pain condition.

 

References
 http://www.jneurosci.org/content/24/46/10410.long