What Predicts Back Pain Becoming Chronic? Your Brain!

How common are getting X-ray and MRI’s of your back? How about a brain MRI? Well, one day hopefully we will include brain MRI’s with acute low back pain. Why? Because certain brain activation patterns predict with 85% accuracy who will still have pain a year later. This shows us 2 things: 1) who could be at risk for developing chronic pain and 2) indicates chronic pain is many times not due to a structural issue in the body, but due to alterations in the brain ( thought patterns, emotion regulation, anxiety, depression, psychosocial stressors).


“Researchers were able to predict, with 85 percent accuracy at the beginning of the study, which participants would go on to develop chronic pain based on the level of interaction between the frontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens.”

“For the first time we can explain why people who may have the exact same initial pain either go on to recover or develop chronic pain,” said A. Vania Apakarian, senior author of the paper and professor of physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“The injury by itself is not enough to explain the ongoing pain. It has to do with the injury combined with the state of the brain. This finding is the culmination of 10 years of our research.”