Chronic pain is one of the most common health complaints in industrial nations. For example, chronic low back pain (cLBP) disables millions of people across the world and generates a tremendous economic burden. While previous studies provided evidence of widespread functional as well as structural brain alterations in chronic pain, little is known about cortical changes in patients suffering from lumbar disc herniation. We investigated morphometric alterations of the gray and white matter of the brain in patients suffering from LDH. The volumes of the gray and white matter of 12 LDH patients were determined in a prospective study and compared to the volumes of healthy controls to distinguish local differences. High-resolution MRI brain images of all participants were performed using a 3 Tesla MRI scanner. Voxel-based morphometry was used to investigate local differences in gray and white matter volume between patients suffering from LDH and healthy controls. LDH patients showed significantly reduced gray matter volume in the right anterolateral prefrontal cortex, the right temporal lobe, the left premotor cortex, the right caudate nucleus, and the right cerebellum as compared to healthy controls. Increased gray matter volume, however, was found in the right dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the left precuneal cortex, the left fusiform gyrus, and the right brainstem. Additionally, small subcortical decreases of the white matter were found adjacent to the left prefrontal cortex, the right premotor cortex and in the anterior limb of the left internal capsule. We conclude that the lumbar disk herniation can lead to specific local alterations of the gray and white matter in the human brain. The investigation of LDH-induced brain alterations could provide further insight into the underlying nature of the chronification processes and could possibly identify prognostic factors that may improve the conservative as well as the operative treatment of the LDH. © 2014 Luchtmann et al.
Luchtmann, M., Steinecke, Y., Baecke, S., Lützkendorf, R., Bernarding, J., Kohl, J., … Firsching, R. (2014). Structural brain alterations in patients with lumbar disc herniation: A preliminary study. PLoS ONE, 9(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0090816