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Cortical Changes in Chronic Low Back Pain

By |July 3, 2017|Cortical Changes, Low Back Pain|

Cortical Changes in Chronic Low Back Pain: Current State of the Art and Implications for Clinical Practice

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SOURCE:   Man Ther. 2011 (Feb); 16 (1): 15-20

Benedict Martin Wand, Luke Parkitny,
Neil Edward O’Connell, Hannu Luomajoki,
James Henry McAuley, Michael Thacker,
G. Lorimer Moseley

School of Health Sciences,
The University of Notre Dame Australia,
Fremantle, WA, Australia


There is increasing evidence that chronic pain problems are characterised by alterations in brain structure and function. Chronic back pain is no exception. There is a growing sentiment, with accompanying theory, that these brain changes contribute to chronic back pain, although empirical support is lacking. This paper reviews the structural and functional changes of the brain that have been observed in people with chronic back pain. We cast light on the clinical implications of these changes and the possibilities for new treatments but we also advise caution against concluding their efficacy in the absence of solid evidence to this effect.


From the Full-Text Article:

Introduction

Chronic musculoskeletal pain is almost by definition a problem for which previous treatment has been unsuccessful. The clinical stories of patients with problems such as chronic low back pain (CLBP), fibromyalgia, and late whiplash associated disorder are usually ones of confusing and conflicting diagnoses and multiple treatment failures. Diagnosis and treatment has traditionally focused on what Robinson and Apkarian (2009) have called ‘end organ dysfunction’. That is, clinicians and researchers have looked to structural and functional abnormalities within the musculoskeletal system for a driver of the clinical condition and treatment has sought to normalise peripheral pathology and mechanics (stretch it, splint it, remove it, anaesthetise or denervate it). In general terms the ‘end organ dysfunction’ approach might be considered to have proven unsuccessful for these conditions (see for e.g. van Tulder et al., 2006a; van Tulder et al., 2006b). Neuroimaging studies have revealed numerous structural and functional changes within the brains of people with chronic musculoskeletal pain and there is growing opinion that these changes may contribute to the development and maintenance of the chronic pain state (Apkarian et al., 2009; Tracey and Bushnell, 2009). In this model of chronic pain the brain is seen as an explicit target for treatment and several treatment strategies have been developed and modified to fit this aim. Although there are data available on a range of chronic painful disorders, we will focus here on the cortical changes observed in patients with CLBP and the possible clinical implications for this population.


Brain changes in people with CLBP

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