Back pain is a surprisingly common problem—according to the American Chiropractic Association, an estimated 31 million Americans experience lower back pain. Back pain is the primary cause of disability not just in the U.S., but in the world. It contributes to days of missed work, visits to the doctor’s office, sleepless nights, and a reduced quality of life.
There are dozens of medications created to treat the “pain” part of back pain, and surgeries, fitness regimens, and rehab protocols intended to deal with the underlying causes of the pain. But here’s a new back pain treatment: a mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy.
In March 2016, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a study conducted in Seattle’s Group Health Research Institute. A team of researchers collected 342 adults between the ages of 20 and 70, all with lower back pain, to participate in a trial that used mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive behavioral therapy to treat the pain.
During the study, 1/3 of the group underwent cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), undergoing training to teach them to change the behaviors and thoughts associated with their pain. Another 1/3 underwent mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), training in yoga and mindfulness meditation practices. The final 1/3 received their usual care, with no changes to their treatment routines.
After just 26 weeks of the study, those who received MSBR showed a 61% improvement in their back pain, while those who underwent CBT showed a 58% improvement—significantly higher than the 44% improvement among the control group. 45% and 44% of the patients who underwent CBT and MSBR experienced a clinically meaningful improvement in their pain, while only 27% of the control group saw the same results. Even after 52 weeks (1 year), the results remained visibly higher for the MSBR group.
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This study proves that mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy may be a viable solution for dealing with back pain. Even if it’s not the “cure all” that eliminates the pain immediately, it can provide long-term relief for chronic pain sufferers. Add it to the usual treatment (rehab, medication, surgeries, etc.), and it may prove even more effective than other options.
Even if you don’t hang all your hopes on mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy for your recovery from back pain, it can be just one more tool in your arsenal for dealing with the pain. This study adds to the many others that prove this type of mindfulness training can improve your pain and the quality of life. It certainly can’t hurt to give it a try.
1. Daniel C. Cherkin, Karen J. Sherman, Benjamin H. Balderson, Andrea J. Cook, Melissa L. Anderson, Rene J. Hawkes, Kelly E. Hansen, Judith A. Turner. “Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Usual Care on Back Pain and Functional Limitations in Adults With Chronic Low Back Pain“. JAMA, 2016; 315 (12): 1240 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2016.2323.