Back Pain: 2 Psychological Treatments Are Both More Effective Than Medication

Back pain can be eased with two psychological treatments, study finds.

Back pain can be eased with two psychological treatments, study finds.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction helps to reduce lower back pain, a new study finds.

Along with cognitive-behavioural therapy, mindfulness was found to be safer than other treatment options and to have more long-lasting effects.

Other typical treatment options include medication and physical therapy.

The high quality study involved almost 350 patients with chronic lower back pain.

The researchers compared a mindfulness intervention with cognitive-behavioural therapy and treatment as normal.

Dr Daniel Cherkin, the study’s first author, said:

“We are not saying ‘It’s all in your mind’.

Rather, as recent brain research has shown, the mind and the body are intimately intertwined, including in how they sense and respond to pain.

Both mindfulness and CBT involve the brain as well as the body.

We found that these approaches were as helpful for people with chronic back pain as are other effective treatments for back pain.


…training the brain to respond differently to pain signals may be more effective—and last longer—than traditional physical therapy and medication.”

Eight out of 10 Americans will experience chronic lower back pain in their lives.

The study involved lower back pain patients, some of whom received 8 two-hour sessions in either CBT or mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Dr Cherkin said:

“Our findings are important because they add to the growing evidence that pain and other forms of suffering involve the mind as well as the body.

Greater understanding and acceptance of the mind-body connection will provide patients and clinicians with new opportunities for improving the lives of persons with chronic back pain and other challenging conditions that are not always effectively managed with physical treatments alone.

We want to see whether the effects of mindfulness and CBT persist for more than a year.

And we want to learn whether mindfulness and CBT affect people through the same or different processes.

For example, do the benefits of mindfulness training result from increased mindfulness and acceptance of pain, whereas the benefits of CBT result from changes in pain beliefs and more effective use of pain coping strategies?”

The study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (Cherkin et al., 2016).

Back pain image from Shutterstock

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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