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.