Study Shows Psychological Therapy Effective for Back Pain
Chronic back pain (CBP) is the most frequent and severe form of chronic pain with a high rate of ineffective treatment. According to a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry, it’s impossible to identify the cause of around 85% of CBP cases. The standard treatment guidelines strongly recommend psychological and physical therapy over anti-inflammatory medication, yet these practices yield limited results.
This prompted the researchers of the University of Colorado at Boulder to investigate the effectiveness of pain-reprocessing therapy (PRT) in CBP treatment.
The lead researcher of the study, Dr. Yoni Ashar explains that the main hypothesis of the study is that the reason our brain reacts to CBP so severely is the fear caused by the pain, and in the efforts of the brain to detect and avoid it, even more pain is inflicted.
The potential of PRT in the form of guided meditation lies in the possibility of convincing the patients to change their mental narrative triggered when experiencing back pain, thus reducing the overly sensitive physiological response and teaching them to control their approach to pain management.
The study was conducted over two years. The participants were divided into three groups — the first group received PRT, the second one received placebo treatments, and the third was subjected to usual therapy.
By the end of the study, 66% of the patients in the PRT group were completely or nearly completely relieved of their pain, while this was the case with 20% of the patients in the placebo group and 10% of the patients receiving their usual treatment.
The study is praised for its methodology in terms of division into active, and placebo groups and using functional MRI scans for obtaining unbiased data on the effectiveness of the treatment.
However, the lack of diversity in the participant sample and the fact that they were all milder CBP cases renders the authors unable to draw broad generalizations confidently.
Dr. Ashar confirms that patients suffering from CBP, which is not caused by injury or inflammation, are more responsive to PRT but hopes to achieve positive results in more severe patients by combining psychological and behavioral therapy in the future.
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