Chronic Pain Severity and Sociodemographics: An Evaluation of the Neurobiological Interface

Academic Article


  • Chronic pain is variably associated with brain structure. Phenotyping based on pain severity may address inconsistencies. Sociodemographic groups also differ in the experience of chronic pain severity. Whether differences by chronic pain severity and/or sociodemographic groups are indicated in pain-related areas of the brain is unknown. Relations between 2 measures of chronic pain severity and brain structure via T1-weighted MRI were investigated and sociodemographic group differences explored. The observational study included 142 community-dwelling (68 non-Hispanic Black [NHB] and 74 non-Hispanic White [NHW]) adults with/at risk for knee osteoarthritis. Relationships between chronic pain severity, sociodemographic groups, and a priori selected brain structures (postcentral gyrus, insula, medial orbitofrontal, anterior cingulate, rostral middle frontal gyrus, hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus) were explored. Chronic pain severity associated with cortical thickness. NHB participants reported lower sociodemographic protective factors and greater clinical pain compared to NHWs who reported higher sociodemographic protective factors and lower clinical pain. Greater chronic pain severity was associated with smaller amygdala volumes in the NHB group and larger amygdala volumes in the NHW group. Brain structure by chronic pain stage differed between and within sociodemographic groups. Overall, chronic pain severity and sociodemographic factors are associated with pain-related brain structures. Our findings highlight the importance of further investigating social and environmental contributions in the experience of chronic pain to unravel the complex array of factors contributing to disparities. Perspective: The study presents data demonstrating structural brain relationships with clinical pain severity, characteristic pain intensity and chronic pain stage, differ by sociodemographic groups. Findings yield insights into potential sources of previous inconsistent pain-brain relationships and highlights the need for future investigations to address social and environmental factors in chronic pain disparities research.
  • Published In

  • Journal of Pain  Journal
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    Author List

  • Tanner JJ; Cardoso J; Terry EL; Booker SQ; Glover TL; Garvan C; Deshpande H; Deutsch G; Lai S; Staud R