Washington: The structure of the brain may help predict whether a person is going to suffer from chronic low back pain or not, according to a study.
Vania Apkarian, Ph.D., a senior author of the study and professor of physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and his colleagues scanned the brains of 46 people who had low back pain for about three months before coming to the hospital but who had not had any pain for at least a year before.
The researchers scanned the subjects' brains and evaluated their pain with doctor's examinations and questionnaires four times over a period of one year.
About half of the subjects recovered at some time during the year; the other half had pain throughout, which the researchers categorized as persistent.
In the study, the researchers used a scanning technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) which measures the structure of white matter, the nerve cell wires, or axons, which connect brain cells in different parts of the brain. They found a consistent difference in white matter between the subjects who recovered and the subjects who experienced pain throughout the year.
Apkarian said that their results suggest that the structure of a person's brain may predispose one to chronic pain.
To test this idea further, the researchers asked whether the white matter differences they saw during the initial brain scans predicted whether the subjects would recover or continue to experience pain. They found white matter brain scans predicted at least 80 percent of the outcomes.
The study has been published in the journal Pain.