When we are in pain, it's hard to think about anything else. The pain takes over; we turn inward. Daily tasks such as getting dressed or making dinner take a great deal more effort. It's hard to stay focused and proceed from one step to the next.
What happens then to someone with chronic pain? Does the continual presence of pain change the brain both physiological and anatomically? If so, are these changes reversible? A recent article in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that the answer to both of these questions may be yes.
In this study, eighteen adult patients with chronic low back pain were studied. The investigators performed functional MRIs on the patients before and six months after they received treatment for their pain. During this same period, brain scans were also taken from sixteen healthy, control participants. The investigators found several areas of the cerebral cortex that were thinner in patients than in controls, including a region in the frontal cortex called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). This area may play a role both in pain modulation and in the performance of attention-demanding, cognitive tasks.