Gray matter in the brain may shrink by 11% in 1 year for individualswith chronic back pain. The percentage is the sameamount of brain density that is lost in 10 to 20 years of normalaging, according to the results of a study reported in the November23, 2004, issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. Gray matteris the part of the brain that processes memory and function.
The study included 52 people (n = 26 with chronic back pain,and n = 26 healthy participants). The patients with chronic backpain had experienced constant pain for more than a year. Usingstructural magnetic resonance imaging and other analytic methodsto compare the brain images of both groups, the researchersfound that every year of chronic pain resulted in a loss of 1.3 cm3of gray matter. The researchers said it is possible that some of thegray matter loss in individuals with chronic back pain happenswithout substantial loss of neurons. They recommended that propertreatment could reverse at least some of the gray matter loss.