Brain imaging predicts chronic back pain

The majority of us have or will experience back pain, but few of us can appreciate what it is like to live with chronic ongoing back pain.

Now it is possible that we are on the threshold of an era when a brain scan performed soon after an injury will be able to predict those of us who would be most likely to recover completely as opposed to those of us who are most vulnerable and at risk for developing ongoing long-term chronic low back pain.

Over the past 20 years, neuroscientists at Northwestern University in Chicago have studied the brains of healthy people as opposed to people with chronic back pain.

What they have discovered is ‘brain differences’ which seem to predict who will and who will not develop chronic back pain.

“If proper evaluation and care can prevent chronic low back pain then this is energy well invested.”

Scientists have noticed that increased communication (crosstalk) between the area of our brains involved in emotional responses and the area of our brains involved in learning (the insula and the nucleus accubens, to be precise), may be predictive of which of us will and will not develop chronic low back pain.

Harvard University neurologist David Borsook notes that these new predictive findings are “trans-formative” and also he cautions that these study results need to be repeated on different patient populations.

If proper evaluation and care can prevent chronic low back pain then this is energy well invested.

Studies such as these underscore the importance of evaluating injury and pain patients from a holistic perspective and of avoiding tunnel vision medical labels and one-size-fits all magic-bullet pharmaceutical approaches.

Studies such as these remind us that despite our similarities, in truth we were each created to be unique and it is best not to compare our response to a given situation (injury) to another’s response to a similar situation.


This information is not to be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please talk to your health care provider for anything related to your health including but not limited to diagnosis, treatment advice and/or care. Always seek the advice of a health care professional. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or call for emergency medical help on the nearest telephone.