MINDFULNESS meditation is better than medication at easing chronic lower back pain, researchers found.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a type of talk therapy – and usual treatments for back pain, including physical therapy and medication. Researchers at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, in the US, examined a specific kind of mindfulness meditation called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
MBSR involves observing and accepting thoughts and feelings, including pain, and simple yoga poses.
The trial involved 342 chronic back pain patients aged 20 to 70 who were split into three groups, each receiving the different types of treatment.
After six months, 61 per cent of patients receiving MBSR and 58 per cent having CBT showed improvements on their “functional limitations”, compared to 44 per cent of those in the usual care group. There was also a 44 per cent improvement in self-reported “pain bothersomeness” in the MBSR group and 45 per cent in the CBT group, compared to 27 per cent receiving usual care treatments.
Improvements noted in the MBSR group persisted, researchers found in a follow-up study a year later.
Study leader Dr Daniel Cherkin said: “The research suggests that training the brain to respond differently to pain signals may be more effective, and last longer, than traditional physical therapy and medication.
“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.”