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YOUR Better Health Update: Mind-body Treatment for Chronic Low Back Pain


Low back pain is a common and, at times, a debilitating condition which is thought to affect between 70 and 90% of people at some point in their lives.

Chronic low back pain is a common cause of disability and can lead to functional impairment, depression and anxiety. There are a variety of treatment options for low back pain, however, no one strategy works for everyone. Treatments include pharmacological options and mind-body treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Access to and cost of these interventions can also limit people’s engagement with them. Another treatment suggested to improve symptoms associated with chronic low back pain is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). This technique focuses on increasing awareness and acceptance of experiences like physical discomfort and emotional difficulties. Researchers assessed the effectiveness of MBSR compared to CBT and usual care.

Participants were assigned to receive either MBSR, CBT or usual care. The usual care group received their typical medical care and $50 and were advised that they could seek other treatments if they wanted to. MBSR and CBT both involved two hours of therapy per week for eight weeks. MBSR also offered a six-hour retreat to participants. MBSR treatment included educational content and mindfulness activities like body scans, yoga and meditation, and CBT involved education including information on chronic pain, sleep hygiene, relapse prevention and practice in behavioural change and pain-coping strategies.

The results showed a benefit from MBSR and CBT compared to usual care. Improvements were observed in functional limitation, pain and mental health outcomes. The benefits associated with MBSR and CBT for back pain persisted at 26 and 52 weeks.

The results of this study suggest that both MBSR and CBT are effective methods of treating lower back pain when compared to usual care. Mind-body treatments can have the benefit of providing people with long-term skills for managing their pain thus perhaps increasing the likelihood for longer-term results. Talk to your doctor for advice if you experience low back pain.

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