This research has been published in the journal Brain.
Researchers in this study worked on 34 participants including 16 patients of chronic back pain and 18 healthy people. They checked the clinical pain reported by the participants, their cortisol levels, hippocampal volumes and brain activations with functional MRI (fMRI) after thermal pain stimulations
Researchers found that the patients with chronic pain have more cortisol levels than healthy individuals. This shows that the harmful effects of the chronic pain such as in back as a result of any condition such as car accident can be reduced by controlling the stress. This is important especially in people with smaller-than-average hippocampus as these people have more chances of developing stress.
“Cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, is sometimes called the ‘stress hormone’ as it is activated in reaction to stress. Our study shows that a small hippocampal volume is associated with higher cortisol levels, which lead to increased vulnerability to pain and could increase the risk of developing pain chronicity,” Étienne Vachon-Presseau, Étienne Vachon-Presseau, a PhD student in Neuropsychology.
“Our research sheds more light on the neurobiological mechanisms of this important relationship between stress and pain. Whether the result of an accident, illness or surgery, pain is often associated with high levels of stress Our findings are useful in that they open up avenues for people who suffer from pain to find treatments that may decrease its impact and perhaps even prevent chronicity. To complement their medical treatment, pain sufferers can also work on their stress management and fear of pain by getting help from a psychologist and trying relaxation or meditation techniques.” Dr. Pierre Rainville, PhD in Neuropsychology, Researcher at the Research Centre of the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM) and Professor in the Faculty of Dentistry at Université de Montréal.
Étienne Vachon-Presseau, Mathieu Roy, Marc-Olivier Martel, Etienne Caron, Marie-France Marin, Jeni Chen, Geneviève Albouy, Isabelle Plante, Michael J. Sullivan, Sonia J. Lupien et Pierre Rainville, (2013). The stress model of chronic pain: evidence from basal cortisol and hippocampal structure and function in humans. Brain, doi: 10.1093/brain/aws371