Student Scholar Symposium Abstracts and Posters

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 5-1-2024

Faculty Advisor(s)

Dr. Jo Armour Smith


Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is the largest cause of disability worldwide. There is evidence for regional structural brain adaptation in CLBP. Most studies have investigated middle-aged adults and show decreased grey matter density in pain processing regions. It is not clear if these adaptations are evident early in the lifespan of individuals with CLBP. The purpose of the study was to compare sensorimotor gray matter density in young adults with a history of CLBP with back-healthy controls. 53 young adults with a greater than 1-year history of CLBP and 29 young adults with no history of LBP participated. Clinical characteristics of the LBP group were quantified with measures of pain duration and intensity as well as pain-related fear and disability. Gray matter density was quantified with voxel-based morphometry. Whole brain and sensorimotor region of interest (ROI) comparisons between groups were made after covarying for age, sex, and total intracranial volume. ROIs were determined a priori. Associations between clinical characteristics and average gray matter density in sensorimotor ROI comparisons were explored with Pearson's correlation coefficients. Individuals with CLBP reported an average duration of pain of 4.9 (+/- 2.2 years) and average pain intensity of 5.0/10. The LBP group had greater gray matter in the right primary somatosensory cortex, right inferior parietal lobule, and right midcingulate cortex (all p < 0.05 FWE corrected). There were significant positive associations between average gray matter and clinical characteristics in the anterior, mid, and posterior cingulate cortices, the supramarginal gyrus, superior parietal lobule and supplementary motor area (all p < 0.05). We demonstrate that in young adults, CLBP is associated with structural neuroplasticity in regions involved in sensory processing, motor control, and the sensory and emotional aspects of pain experience. Increased grey matter density early in the lifespan of individuals with CLBP may reflect an adaptation to ongoing nociceptive input.


Presented at the Spring 2024 Student Scholar Symposium at Chapman University.