Meditation May Help Ease Chronic Low Back Pain
Study found it bested cognitive behavioral therapy and usual care
By Amy Norton
TUESDAY, March 22, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Meditation may work better than painkillers when it comes to soothing chronic low back pain, a new clinical trial suggests.
The study found that a program called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) beat standard medical care for managing low back pain.
After one year, people who attended MBSR classes were more than 40 percent likely to show "meaningful" improvements in their pain and daily activities compared to people who sought conventional care for their aching backs.
MBSR involves group sessions in meditation and some simple yoga poses. The focus is on becoming aware of body sensations, thoughts and emotions -- without trying to change them, explained study leader Daniel Cherkin. He's a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute, in Seattle.
It's not exactly clear why the mindfulness approach can ease back pain, according to Cherkin.
But, he stressed, no one is saying that the pain is just "in people's heads."
"Neurological research has demonstrated how the body and mind are truly intertwined," Cherkin said. The way the mind senses and responds to pain is critical, he said.
According to Cherkin, MBSR can help people acknowledge how they are feeling -- physically and otherwise -- without reacting and "getting stressed out." And that might help them manage chronic back woes.
The study was published March 22 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The findings were based on 342 adults with persistent low back pain for at least three months. Most of them had suffered much longer -- seven years, on average, the study authors said.
None of the study participants had a clear cause for the pain, such as a slipped spinal disc. And that's the case for most people with low back pain, Cherkin said.
"For people like these, there is no single treatment that works," he said. "That's probably because there are a lot of different factors causing people's pain."
Cherkin's team randomly assigned each patient to one of three groups: Those in the MBSR group were supposed to attend eight weekly sessions led by an instructor, and start a home practice of meditation and basic yoga poses.