Musculoskeletal pain brings many clients to massage therapy. New research shows people who live with chronic spinal pain (for more than three months) experience difficulty with mental concentration and problems with remembering information.

Researchers placed a total of 64 patients with musculoskeletal pain syndromes in the lumbosacral area into two age groups: 30-50 years (41 patients) and 51-60 years (23 patients), according to an abstract published on www.pubmed.gov. The reference group consisted of 20 healthy volunteers comparable in terms of gender, age, and level of education. The patients underwent neurological, neuro-orthopedic, clinical-pathopsychological, and neuropsychological investigations, the abstract noted.

Among the results, according to the abstract:

• Complaints of difficulty with mental concentration were present in 17.3 percent of patients, and problems with remembering information in 20.2 percent of patients.

• As compared with healthy subjects, both groups of patients had significantly worse performance in tests assessing memory (delayed reproduction in the 12-word test), attention, mental flexibility and visuomotor coordination (the sequential number-letter combination test, digit symbol substitution test, and, in younger patients, the forward and backward number series repetition test).

• Cognitive functions in younger patients were affected by the sensory-discriminant (intensity) and affective-motivational (negative emotions, particularly anxiety) characteristics of pain.

• Cognitive functions in older patients were affected by the affective-motivational (anxiety, level of psychoemotional distress) and cognitive (level of catastrophization) components of pain.

The researchers suggest that mind-related treatments, including psychotherapy, “could potentially have positive effects on cognitive functions in patients with chronic pain.”

“Characteristics of Cognitive Functions in Patients with Chronic Spinal Pain” is running in the journal Neuroscience and Behavioral Physiology (2010 Dec 11) and was conducted by researchers at Department of Nervous Diseases, Therapeutic Faculty, I. M. Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy, Moscow, Russia,

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