Study says meditation helps ease back pain

Image: Meditation class
A study conducted at Group Health Research Institute found that meditation can be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy and medication for treating low back pain. (Credit: JAMA via YouTube)

Mindfulness meditation can give a boost to treatments for chronic low back pain for a wide spectrum of patients, a study conducted by Seattle’s Group Health Research Institute has found.

The study, published today by the Journal of the American Medical Association, assessed treatment outcomes over the course of a year for 342 Group Health back-pain patients, ranging in age from 20 to 70.

The patients were divided into three groups. The control group continued their usual treatment plan, including medications and physical therapy. The other two groups went through two-hour training sessions, once a week for eight weeks, in two different types of mental techniques for addressing stress and pain.

One technique is known as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which has previously been used to treat back pain as well as other conditions such as depression. CBT helps patients reframe how they think about pain to manage it more successfully. It also helps them change behaviors that may contribute to pain.

The other technique is mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR. Practitioners are trained to observe, acknowledge and accept their thoughts and feelings, including their sensation of pain. The training also promotes body awareness through yoga.

The CBT and MBSR patients were allowed to receive other types of care independent of the study.

Group Health’s researchers found that the CBT and MBSR patients were more likely to experience at least a 30 percent improvement in function, as well as in their self-reported assessments of how much they were bothered by back pain.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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