Mindfulness could help ease back pain

Mindfulness – a relaxation technique said to help ‘quieten’ the mind – could help relieve back pain, according to a US study. 

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can help the brain respond differently to pain signals, researchers from Washington’s Group Health Research Institute found. 

The technique involves training people how to observe, acknowledge and accept thoughts and feelings including pain, alongside some simple yoga poses. 

Mindfulness vs other therapies

The ability of mindfulness to control pain was compared to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and regular back pain care. 

The trial involved 342 patients aged 20 to 70 years old, all with chronic back pain. 

After 6 months, 61% of patients who received MBSR showed improvements on their functional limitations compared to 44% of those in the usual care group. 

CBT, which involves talking with patients to help them ‘reframe’ how they think about pain, was also more effective than usual care, with 58% reporting improvements. 

When it came to how much their pain bothered them, 44% of the MBSR group reported improvements compared to 45% in the CBT group and 27% of those who continued their usual care. 

Importantly, improvements reported in the MBSR group were still apparent a year later. 

Not ‘all in your mind’

Study leader Dr Daniel Cherkin says that while mindfulness can help improve pain, it doesn’t mean the pain is “all in your mind”. 

Recent brain research shows how the mind and the body are intimately intertwined, including in how they sense and respond to pain. 

Dr Cherkin believes a greater understanding and acceptance of the mind-body connection could open the door to new opportunities for people with chronic back pain. 

The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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