Pain is associated with regional grey matter reduction in the general population

Pain. 2011 Apr;152(4):904-911. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.01.013. Epub 2011 Feb 5.


Regional decreases in grey matter volume as detected by magnetic resonance imaging-based volumetry have been reported in several clinical chronic pain cohorts. Here, we used voxel-based morphometry in a nonclinical cohort to investigate whether grey matter alterations also occur in older individuals (aged 40-85 years) from the general population. Based on self-report of pain, we identified 31 pain-free controls, 45 subjects with ongoing pain (low back pain, headache, or lower extremity joint pain) who had at least moderate pain on more than 3 days/month, and 29 individuals with past pain (stopped for >12 months). Relative to controls, the ongoing pain group showed regional grey matter volume decreases, predominantly in cingulate, prefrontal, and motor/premotor regions. No grey matter volume decreases were found in the group with pain that had stopped for >12 months. These results show that pain-related grey matter volume decreases are present in individuals from the general population. The lack of morphometric anomalies in subjects with past pain supports recent evidence suggesting that pain-related grey matter changes are reversible after cessation of pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / classification
  • Pain / pathology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Self Report