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Mind-Body Practices, Chronic Pain and the Brain

by Shirley Archer, JD, MA on Aug 16, 2015

Mind-Body-Spirit News

If you’re suffering from chronic pain, you may want to begin a yoga or meditation practice. In addition to increasing the risk of depression and anxiety, chronic pain changes brain anatomy by reducing gray matter and adversely affecting white matter, according to the American Pain Society (APS). As many as 19% of adult Americans suffer from chronic pain.

At the APS 2015 annual meeting in Palm Springs, California, M. Catherine Bushnell, PhD, presented research showing that mind-body practices may be helpful to this population.

Bushnell, of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, said in an APS news release, “Imaging studies in multiple types of chronic pain patients show their brains differ from healthy control subjects. Studies of people with depression show they also have reduced gray matter, and this could contribute to the gray matter changes in pain patients who are depressed. Our research shows that gray matter loss is directly related to the pain when we take depression into account.”

She added, “Brain anatomy changes may contribute to mood disorders and other affective and cognitive comorbidities of chronic pain. The encouraging news for people with chronic pain is mind-body practices seem to exert a protective effect on brain gray matter that counteracts the neuroanatomical effects of chronic pain.”

For more information, go to the APS website at

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About the Author

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, was the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at