New imaging technique captures brain activity in patients with chronic low back pain

July 27, 2011, Brigham and Women's Hospital

Research from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) uses a new imaging technique, arterial spin labeling, to show the areas of the brain that are activated when patients with low back pain have a worsening of their usual, chronic pain. This research is published in the August issue of the journal Anesthesiology.

"This study is a first step towards providing tools to objectively describe someone's chronic pain which is a subjective experience. We've found that when a patient has worsening of their usual pain, there are changes in the activity of the ," said Ajay Wasan, MD, MSc, lead author of the paper and a researcher in the Pain Management Center at BWH. "These changes occur in the network of areas in the brain that process pain and mood."

Researchers compared 16 patients with (CLBP) to 16 healthy subjects. Participants underwent three imaging sessions. The first was for a characterization and training session. During the second session, researchers used clinical , such as pelvic tilting or straight leg raising , to temporarily exacerbate back pain. In the third session, heat was applied to the skin at an intensity that matched the pain levels during the second session. Patients rated their pain levels before and after the sessions and after each stimulation during the sessions.

During the last two sessions, researchers used the arterial spin labeling technique, which allows them to quantify the blood flow to specific regions of the brain over time. The amount of is indicative of in that region of the brain. They found that there was increased activity in the brain of CLBP patients only when they experienced a worsening of their chronic pain and not during the heat pain session or in the healthy participants. Researchers also note that some of the areas of the brain that were activated when participants experienced a worsening of have been shown to be associated with other types of pain found in other studies. However, researchers also observed activation of some areas, including the superior parietal lobule, which have been less frequently associated with pain in previous research.

"While this study begins to uncover some of the basic physiology of the brain as it processes pain, more studies are needed to help us understand how the brain function may change over the course of treatment of pain and to examine the brain mechanisms by which pain improves," Wasan said. "We are getting closer to describing, on an objective level, how the body and brain are reacting when a patient reports having more . We are hopeful that this could lead to an understanding of an individual patient's neurocircuitry and that knowledge could lead to therapies that would be tailored to the individual."

Explore further: Treatment of chronic low back pain can reverse abnormal brain activity and function

Related Stories

Treatment of chronic low back pain can reverse abnormal brain activity and function

May 17, 2011
It likely comes as no surprise that low back pain is the most common form of chronic pain among adults. Lesser known is the fact that those withchronic pain also experience cognitive impairments and reduced gray matter in ...

Recommended for you

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

Miles Davis is not Mozart: The brains of jazz and classical pianists work differently

January 16, 2018
Keith Jarret, world-famous jazz pianist, once answered in an interview when asked if he would ever be interested in doing a concert where he would play both jazz and classical music: "No, that's hilarious. [...] It's like ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.