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No pain, healthier brain

Treating chronic back problems has benefits above the neck

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6:00pm, May 17, 2011

Wiping out chronic pain in the lower back doesn’t just dull the agony. It allows the brain to recover, too. Six months after people’s backaches were eased, their brains showed fewer signs of the abnormalities that accompany chronic pain, a new study shows.

This brain recovery is “a concrete message that certainly brings hope and relief to those suffering from this condition,” says UCLA neuroscientist Dante Chialvo.

In the study, neuroscientist Laura Stone of McGill University in Montreal and colleagues scanned the brains of people who had experienced back pain for at least a year. Compared to healthy controls, chronic pain sufferers had thinning in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain region that’s been linked to pain modulation. This region also showed abnormal activity when people with chronic back pain took a simple cognitive test while in a brain scanner, the team found.

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