New Study Shows Mindfulness is Better than Painkillers for Relief of Chronic Low Back Pain

People who suffer from chronic low back pain want pain relief, but they want it their way. Most importantly, they want a solution that allows them to continue to enjoy their lives without risk of dependence on opioids. The good news is that researchers have found that is entirely possible. In fact, a recent study has shown that meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy can both provide them with far greater relief than pain medications, and the same is true of conservative treatments and approaches like posture training, physical therapy and exercise.

At our lumbar spine specialty practice in New Jersey, we have long taken a conservative approach that begins with non-invasive treatments, and we read the latest study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association with great interest. Researchers evaluated the impact of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program first developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center for chronic pain, enlisting 342 patients who had experienced significant back pain for a minimum of one year and introducing some of them to mindfulness training, some to cognitive behavioral therapy, and leaving some to continue as they were.

The mindfulness training entailed 8 weeks of yoga instruction and meditation training, as well as some take-home material. Of those participants, 43.6 reported a meaningful reduction 26 later, while the group that had cognitive behavioral therapy reported a similar improvement of 44.9 percent. In both of those groups, a significant number of participants did not complete the eight weeks of training. Of the group that did not go through any training, just 26.6 percent reported an improvement.

The researchers conducting the study were from the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, and senior investigator Daniel Cherkin found the results to be remarkable, saying,

“I’ve been doing research on back pain for 30 years.The biggest revolution has been the understanding that it’s not just a physical problem with physical solutions. It’s a biopsychosocial problem. It puts people in a situation where they get afraid, they get stressed, they’re tired, they’re irritable. Unfortunately, these people have not found health care providers to be very helpful. They feel alone; they feel that their pain is not being validated.

Cherkin indicated that both patients and their physicians are often frustrated by the lack of a quick fix to back pain, and blames that frustration for the tendency to prescribe opioids. He is encouraged by his findings on meditation as an effective treatment, particularly in light of the growing availability of meditation training, even via newly popular apps like Headspace and Calm. In the past, patients seeking assistance with this type of training were stymied by the lack of availability, as well as insurers’ unwillingness to pay.

At our lumbar spine specialty practice, we encourage patients to use mindfulness and other relaxation or stress reduction methods to deal with chronic pain. We also believe that we can provide real medical relief through the use of conservative treatments and, when appropriate, minimally invasive surgery.

Contact us today to learn more.

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