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

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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.Ongoing pain, but not pain that has stopped for more than 12 months, is associated with regional grey matter volume decreases.

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