An individual could sustain a back injury from various activities, such as sports, bending over in the garden or a car accident. According to MedLine Plus, the most common area for back injuries is in the lower back (lumbar) region. The types of injuries someone might sustain in his or her lifetime include fractured vertebrae, injuries to the spinal discs such as herniated or slipped discs and sprains or strains. Many of these injuries could limit an individual’s movement and cause a wide range of pain. According to a new study by Northwestern researchers, “abnormalities in the structure of the brain predispose people to develop chronic pain after a lower back injury.”
The research, which was recently published in the journal Pain, reveals who might be most susceptible to developing chronic pain after sustaining a lower back injury. According to the Los Angeles Times, differences in the white matter of an individual’s brain, which consists of “bundles of fatty fibers that carry electrical impulses between the brain’s hemispheres and among its dense network of cells and structures,” could be indicative of whether or not an individual will develop chronic pain. The information gleaned from the study could help future research efforts on treatment options for chronic pain sufferers.
In the study, the researchers were able to analyze the differences of the brain of patients with new lower back injuries who experienced varying degrees of pain. The scientists analyzed MRI brain scans of the participants and found that they were able to predict, with approximately 85 percent accuracy, the extent to which a patient would develop persistent chronic pain. The researchers identified a specific irregularity, which served as a marker, in the axons of the patients’ brains. The study is the first one to show that brain structure abnormality is a marker of predisposition to long-lasting chronic pain.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The results of the study can provide doctors a new angle on how to treat chronic pain, which affects nearly 100 million Americans and costs hundreds of billions to treat, according to a press release. Twenty-eight percent of all pain sufferers experience their pain in the lower back region.