Beware the Aching Back

Keeping a stiff upper lip over that nagging pain in your back may qualify you as a stoic, but the preliminary results of a small study suggest the cost
might be steep: the loss of brain tissue.

Northwestern University researchers found that people who experienced lower back pain for more than a year had up to 11 percent less brain matter in areas responsible for learning, higher thought, and reasoning than those without chronic pain. Our brains do shrink as we grow older, but only about 1/2 percent per year, so the loss seen in folks with persistent pain is equivalent to what occurs in up to 20 years of normal aging. Without further analysis, researchers can’t be certain whether the increased atrophy is a product of chronic back pain, genetic predisposition, or as yet unrecognized causes. But for now, the message is clear: when it comes to nagging back pain, don’t just grin and bear it.