Meditation May Help Ease Chronic Back Pain
Researchers have found that meditation is more effective than medication at easing chronic lower back pain. The study found that a programme called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) had better results than standard medical care for managing lower back pain. The researchers compared mindfulness, cognitive behaviour therapy and common medication and found that mindfulness meditation improved the mobility of 61% of patients in 6 months.
The study involved 342 patients aged between 20 and 70 who suffered from chronic back pain. They were divided into three groups – one group were told to continue their usual pain management regime of physical therapy and painkillers, another group was given cognitive behavioural therapy, and the third group were trained in MBSR.
MBSR involves training the brain to respond differently to pain signals by observing, acknowledging and accepting thoughts and feelings, including pain. It also incorporated some simple yoga poses and group sessions in meditation.
After one year, people who attended the MBSR classes were more than 40% likely to show meaningful improvements in their pain and daily activities compared to people who sought conventional care for their aching backs.
The research was carried out at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, US and the leader Daniel Cherkin found that MBSR could help people acknowledge how they were feeling without getting stressed out by it, thus helping them to manage their pain levels. What was surprising, Dr Cherkin said, was that the benefits of MBSR were still apparent after a year despite the fact that most people did not attend all the eight sessions of the programme.
“We are excited about these results, because chronic low back pain is such a common problem and can be disabling and difficult to treat.”
He added: “We are not saying “It’s all in your mind”, rather, as brain research has shown, the mind and 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.”
“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.”
“This is not for everyone with low back pain,” Dr Cherkin stressed. “Some people just don’t like to meditate. Different things work for different people. But this study shows that there may be value in offering people approaches that focus on the mind.”
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