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Brain study of back pain sufferers yields intriguing results

ANN ARBOR, MI Patients with lower back pain that can't be traced to a specific physical cause may have abnormal pain-processing pathways in their brains, according to a new study led by University of Michigan researchers.

The effect, which as yet has no explanation, is similar to an altered pain perception effect in fibromyalgia patients recently reported by the same research team.

In fact, the study finds, people with lower back pain say they feel severe pain, and have measurable pain signals in their brains, from a gentle finger squeeze that barely feels unpleasant to people without lower back pain. People with fibromyalgia felt about the same pain from a squeeze of the same intensity.

But the squeeze's force must be increased sharply to cause healthy people to feel the same level of pain -- and their pain signals register p in different brain areas.

The results, which will be presented Oct. 27 at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in New Orleans, may help lead researchers to important findings on lower back pain, and on enhanced pain perception in general.

Senior authors Richard Gracely, Ph.D., and Daniel Clauw, M.D., did the study at Georgetown University Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health, but are now continuing the work at the University of Michigan Health System. In May, they and their colleagues published a paper in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism on pain perception in fibromyalgia patients.

To correlate subjective pain sensation with objective views of brain signals, the researchers used a super-fast form of MRI brain imaging, called functional MRI or fMRI. They looked at the brains of 15 people with lower back pain whose body scans showed no mechanical cause, such as a ruptured disk, for their pain. They also looked at 15 fibromyalgia patients and 15 normal control subjects.

As a result, they say, the study offers the first objective method for corrobo
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Contact: Kara Gavin
kegavin@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
27-Oct-2002


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