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Can Treating Lower Back Pain Improve Intelligence?
Date:4/23/2013

pain or complex regional pain syndrome had significantly smaller hippocampal regions, while the group with osteoarthritis had a nearly normal size. The first two groups showed similar symptoms of anxiety, depression, and deficits in learning and memory similar to the mice with chronic pain. The researchers suspect that the reduced hippocampal size in people is the result of the lack in neuron growth and other impairments as seen in the mice. When new neurons do not grow, memory and emotional processes become impaired. The research team headed by Mutso and Apkarian emphasized the importance of locating the source of the chronic pain and providing the proper treatment for a brain-based disorder.

The next question then is: can aberrant brain function be reversed by the proper treatment of spinal pain? A research team led by David A. Seminowicz considered this exact subject in their paper Effective Treatment of Chronic Low Back Pain in Humans Reverses Abnormal Brain Anatomy and Function. They looked at the gray matter thickness with structural MRI scans of 18 chronic low back pain patients before surgery or facet joint pain blocking injections, along with 14 patients 6 months after surgery or facet injection. These scans were compared with 16 healthy subjects, 10 of which also returned 6 months later. Functional MRI scans were also done on all of the groups while performing a cognitive task. Those patients with chronic pain had decreased brain gray matter thickness and impaired cognitive ability compared to the healthy subjects.

Six months after successful treatment for back pain, the chronic pain patients displayed increased cortical thicknesses in: the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (correlating with reduced pain and physical disability),
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