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Can mindfulness-based stress reduction assist patients with chronic low back pain?

Posted on 06-28-2016 Posted in Recovery, Stress, Treatment - 0 Comments

chronic low back pain

Chronic pain is one of the leading causes of disability in this country. In the United States alone, nearly 40 million Americans had severe pain and about 25.3 million adults had pain every day for the past three months, according to the results of the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

In the midst of a growing opioid epidemic, it has become increasingly important to make drastic changes to the way the medical profession currently treats and manages chronic pain. Researchers have worked diligently to find medications with less addictive potential as well as a lowered risk for accidental overdoses and death.

Chronic pain patients often experience stress, fear and depression, which have the ability to amplify their perception of pain. In recent years, mind-body approaches, including mindfulness, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and yoga have helped people to use relaxation techniques, coping strategies and physical movements to reduce their experience of pain. A growing body of evidence suggests that different complementary and alternative therapeutic approaches, including acupuncture, yoga, mindfulness meditation, massage and spinal adjustment have been effective for helping people to manage pain.

Greater improvements in pain with MBSR compared to treatment as usual, study finds

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a type of mind-body therapy approach that focuses on increasing awareness and acceptance of physical discomfort and uncomfortable emotions in the present moment. A recent study conducted by Daniel C. Cherkin, Ph.D., at the Group Health Research Institute and University of Washington, and his colleagues evaluated the effectiveness of MBSR, compared with CBT and treatment as usual, among patients with chronic low back pain.

Three hundred and forty-two adults between the ages of 20 and 70 were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions for the treatment of chronic low back pain:

  • 116 received MBSR
  • 113 received CBT
  • 113 received usual care

The researchers wanted to determine whether patients who received MBSR (which included mindfulness meditation and yoga) would show greater short- and long-term improvements in functional limitations and self-reported back pain compared to patients who received CBT (which trained patients in how to change pain-related thoughts and behaviors to reduce pain) or usual care (in which participants received any medical care that they normally received).

The results indicated that adults with chronic low back pain who were randomized to receive MBSR or CBT had greater improvements in their chronic low back pain and functional limitations when they were assessed at 26 weeks, compared to patients who received usual care. The findings also suggested that MBSR and CBT worked similarly to reduce chronic pain.

The results of this study indicate that MBSR may be an effective treatment option for patients who have chronic low back pain. Although this new research is promising, it is important to note that more research is required before MSBR is considered to be an evidence-based approach for treating patients with chronic pain.

Sovereign Health of Florida provides evidence-based behavioral health treatment options for patients with mental health, substance use and co-occurring disorders. For more information on the treatment of chronic pain or about the behavioral health treatment programs at Sovereign Health of Florida, please contact our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.

About the author

Amanda Habermann is a writer for the Sovereign Health Group. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. She brings to the team her background in research, testing and assessment, diagnosis and recovery techniques. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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