Most people I see do not realise that back pain messes with their brain. Pain changes the way we move and what we do. Pain also affects are moods and ability to think clearly - if you ever seemed grumpier than normal or your brain feels like it's foggy while you have back pain, you now know why.
Science has proof that pain changes our brain - research shows that for every year of chronic pain, your brain shrinks in volume by 1 cubic cm. This much loss in grey matter volume is equivalent to 10-20 years of normal aging. (1)
When the brain gets smaller, our higher functions can start to become affected - exhibiting as memory impairment, dementia, reduction of hormones, etc. (2)
This is alarming when we realise that some people begin to experience chronic pain from a young age, some as young as teens. Although we have no stats for children yet, it makes sense to start focusing on getting rid of chronic pain properly rather than popping pills (Band Aid response) or ignoring it until it becomes unbearable.
So why would chronic pain cause our brains to start shrinking? Well, we know that chronic pain changes our behaviour and perception of our surroundings. Your brain will work hard at avoiding anything that might cause further damage, so it alerts us with pain before it goes into a place where the brain thinks damage might occur.
However, if the injury or cause of the injury is not addressed over several months, the the involved muscles will begin deconditioning – that means it is weaker than it was before. Also, because the involved muscles are not being used as much, the brain is not receiving much stimulus from the muscles and joints, so your brain’s map for this area begins to reduce. It starts to believe that this joint and muscle can only do limited activities and put up with less loads than before. So scientists think that with less input, the brain begins to shrink. When this part of the brain that deals with pain shrinks, scientists also think that it makes us even more sensitive to pain. Instead of feeling pain only when there is real damage or injury, the person is experiencing increasingly more pain well before there is actual tissue damage. So the involved muscles and joints end up doing increasingly less as time goes by.
So in a nutshell: with pain, we reduce movement. With reduced movement over months, we get less information from the joint and muscle to the brain causing the brain to start shrinking. The brain shrinkage in turn affects other parts of the brain to lower further still our threshold for pain, so we feel pain well before we have the injury, which it takes longer for chronic pain to resolve. And lose enough brain cells and you lose cognitive function.
Given all that, it make sense to prioritise resolving pain in our bodies before it becomes chronic. And if there is chronic pain, find a way to resolve them. You owe your brain that much.
Here in Soul Chiropractic, a combination of personalised chiropractic care, Neuroemotional Technique and lifestyle advice is used for each person who seek our care. Book now online, or contact Fiona Kim for further information or appointments: email@example.com or 0415 300 341.
1. Chronic Back Pain is Associated with Decreased Prefrontal and Thalamic Gray Matter Density. Vania Apkarian, yamaya Sosa, Sreepadma Sonty, Robert Levy, R. Norman Harden, Todd B. Parrish and Darren R Gitelman. J. Neuroscience 17/11/2004, 24 (46) 10410-10415; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2541-04.2004
2. Ageing and the Brain. R. Peters. Postgrad Med J 2006 Feb: 82(964): 84-88 doi: [10.1136/pgmj.2005.036665] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2596698/964/