Chronic pain, knee osteoarthritis linked to more rapid brain aging, dementia risk

Chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP) may contribute to a higher risk of cognitive decline, according to a new study by scientists from the U.S. and China. 

The study, published in Nature Mental Health, examined the MRI data from more than 9,000 people in the United Kingdom and discovered a connection between knee osteoarthritis (KOA) and accelerated brain aging.

With slightly less than half of the global population experiencing CMP, the study provides a window for researchers into how inflammation and cognitive function can be linked and studied in the future. CMP’s role in accelerated cognitive decline has not been extensively studied, but many older adults who experience it are at greater risk for dementia.

Inflammation in the body has been seen as a contributing factor to neurological ailments, Steve Adler, MD, consultant neurologist at Re: Cognition Health, who was not involved in the study, said.

“Increasingly, particularly for depression and Alzheimer’s, and other conditions — for example, a recent review invoked this in Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Gulf War Illness, and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome,” Allder said.

Medhat Mikhael, MD, pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, said that inflammation and chronic pain can interrupt and alter the brain’s processing patterns.

“Chronic inflammation like knee Osteoarthritis or Chronic Musculoskeletal pain are associated with changes in the central nervous system causing what is known as neuroplasticity, which changes in the structural and functional state of the brain,” Mikhael said. “Chronic pain (CP) has been found to cause significant alternations of the brain’s structure and function due to changes in pain processing and disrupted cognitive functions, including with respect to the prefrontal cortex.”

The inflammation that stems from acute pain can become chronic if not properly addressed, but in general, an injury to one particular area is not likely to cause cognitive decline, according to Allder.

“You need to provoke a sustained immune response both systematically and in the brain,” Allder said.

Source: Medical News Today