A new study has found meditation to be more effective in treating chronic lower back pain than painkillers. The study utilized a program called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which was found to be more successful in treating lower back pain than traditional medical interventions.
After one year, individuals participating in the MBSR program were 40 percent more likely to show meaningful improvements in their back pain and daily activities, compared to individuals who only underwent traditional treatment methods.
MBSR involves group meditation sessions in simple yoga poses. The focus is on body awareness of sensations, thoughts, and emotions.
Study leader Daniel Cherkin said, “Neurological research has demonstrated how the body and mind are truly intertwined.” MBSR can help back pain sufferers acknowledge how they are feeling without becoming stressed out which can help them manage their back pain.
The study involved 342 adults with chronic lower back pain. Many participants did not know the exact cause of their pain. Some patients were assigned to MBSR, some were assigned to cognitive behavioral therapy, and the remainder could opt for traditional therapies like painkillers.
Six months into the study, 60 percent of MBSR patients showed significant improvement in pain reduction and daily activities, compared to 44 percent in other therapy groups.
Patients in the cognitive behavioral therapy group also saw great improvements, but those in the MBSR group maintained their improvements up to one year later. Cherkin added, “We were struck by how durable the effects were.”
Dr. Madhav Goyal, who wrote an accompanying editorial to the study, explained, “It could be that most people were doing the homework, and that contributed to the benefits.”
Although MBSR programs are becoming more available and accessible, Cherkin added, “This is not for everyone with low back pain. Some people just don’t like to meditate. Different things work for different people. But this study shows that there may be value in offering people approaches that focus on the mind.”