How Does Chronic Pain Impact the Brain?

How Chronic Pain Affects the Brain in Santa Monica, CA

Affecting more than 100 million Americans and contributing to more than half-a-trillion dollars in related medical expenses annually, chronic pain can have a serious impact on quality of life. Though the connection between pain lasting 6 months or longer has long been known, results of a few studies could alter the assumption that changes in the brain linked to chronic pain are only temporary.Beverly Hills spine surgeons discuss a few of the ways chronic pain affects the brain.

Ages the Brain

Researchers at Northwest University suggest lingering pain can significantly age the brain. According to their study, this accelerated aging shrinks the gray matter in the brain associated with information processing and memory by nearly 12 percent, which is a sharp increase from the fraction of a percentage lost due to normal aging. Participants with chronic lower back pain showed the biggest decrease in gray matter.

Makes Nerve Cells Work Harder

One suggested reason for the increase in loss of gray matter is that nerve cells have more work to do when a person has chronic pain. The findings in the above study stress the importance of addressing any type of persistent pain as soon as it begins.

Impairs Memory

Chronic pain also affects memory and concentration, according to results from a separate study in Canada. Researchers found subjects with chronic pain had more trouble staying focused and remembering basic info. This data is backed up by a prior study in the UK where participants with chronic pain had difficulty keeping track of recent tasks like attending medical appointments and running errands.

Chronic pain alters how the brain works when carrying out basic functions. Nerve cells in the brain also deteriorate faster in people with depression and anxiety, conditions often related to chronic pain. Researchers suggest people with chronic pain take steps to retain and boost cognitive skills by learning new tasks or changing their regular routines to stimulate other parts of the brain.

Treatments for chronic pain can range from fusion procedures like cervical discectomy surgery to alternatives to spinal fusion like artificial disc replacement. At The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration, we can help find a solution to your chronic pain and start you down the path to a pain-free life. Call our office today at 310-828-7757 to learn more.