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Chronic Back Pain: Psychologically Harmful?

May 1, 2008
Can chronic back pain be causing people more than just physical harm? It is a big possibility, according to new studies. More and more medical studies are showing that the results of chronic back pain can have detrimental effects, not only on the body but also on the mind.

An article from HealthDay News featured on MedlinePlus.com, A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, reports a study which found a correlation between chronic pain and the brain.

The study found researchers in Chicago from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine using devices to track the pain symptoms with the brain's activity. According to the article, the researchers "used functional MRI to scan brain activity in people with chronic low back pain while they tracked a moving bar on a computer screen." They conducted the same procedure with another group of people; these subjects were known as the control group since they had no documented pain.

The study found that people with a lack of pain, had rather balanced brain functions. People who had chronic pain had a brain that showed a variety of emotional symptoms. Since the front region of the brain with the people who had chronic pain seemed to be on overdrive, the region can result in wearing out the brain neurons, according to Dante Chialvo, the study's author; in turn, such findings show that there can be permanent damage done to the brain.

Chialvo, an associate research professor of psychology, also says that chronic pain patients deal with pain constantly -- 24 hours a day. The professor was quoted saying that, "that permanent perception of pain in your brain makes these areas in your brain continuously active. This continuous dysfunction in the equilibrium of the brain can change the wiring forever and could hurt the brain."

Chronic back pain is usually said to be diagnosed after three months of pain, but can take months to heal. This form of low back pain can cause people to be uncomfortable, and such pain can make it hard for people to get up in the morning and be productive at work. The pain indirectly and directly hurts the individual with pain.

"Approximately 80% of Americans experience [low back pain] during their lifetime. An estimated 15-20% develop protracted pain, and approximately 2-8% have chronic pain. Every year, 3-4% of the population is temporarily disabled, and 1% of the working-age population is disabled totally and permanently because of [low back pain]," according to eMedicine.com, an extension of WebMD.com.

"[Low Back Pain] is second only to the common cold as a cause of lost work time; it is the fifth most frequent cause for hospitalization and the third most common reason to undergo a surgical procedure. Productivity losses from chronic low back pain approach $28 billion annually in the United States," eMedicine online reports.

The numbers are staggering, as people with pain in the low back are becoming more disabled due to the pain. Becoming depressed, getting anxious, and having a low self-esteem view can result from chronic back pain.

So what can you do if you fear that you may have chronic back pain? Seeing a specialist for your pain is the first step. Once your pain is diagnosed the route to recovery may be a long one, but can happen at a faster pace when discovered at an early stage. Contact your local chiropractor for more information.

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About the Author
Mahsa Khalilifar is a freelance writer for Orange County Spinal Decompression in Irvine, CA. She received her bachelor's degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism from California State University, Fullerton. She has been involved in the health care industry for over eight years. Orange County Spinal Decompression is Orange County's premiere DRX9000 Spinal Decompression Office specializing in the treatment of neck and back pain.
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