How Meditation Can Relieve Your Chronic Lower Back Pain

Meditation helps to refocus attention away from the hurt
How Meditation Can Relieve Your Chronic Lower Back Pain

If you have often have chronic back pain but don’t like taking pain relievers all the time, you have alternatives worth considering, a new study shows.

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Mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive-behavioral therapy may be more effective than the standard treatment for alleviating chronic low-back pain, a new study says.

Standard treatment choices for lower back pain include over-the-counter and prescription drugs, cold and hot compresses, exercise, and in some cases, surgery.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction, however, combines elements of mindfulness meditation and yoga, while cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that trains you to modify specific thoughts and behaviors.

The study helps demonstrate that therapies that don’t rely on drugs, such as meditation, can help people manage their chronic lower back pain, says lifestyle medicine expert Jane Ehrman, MEd.

Less back pain

In the study, researchers from the Group Health Cooperative, Seattle, and the University of Washington, Seattle, randomly assigned 342 people ages 20 to 70, who had chronic back pain weekly for the past year, to two groups.

For a year, the first group received the standard type of care for lower back pain for a year. Members of the second group used either mindfulness-bass stress reduction or cognitive-behavioral therapy to ease their pain. The second group practiced these complementary strategies for two hours every week.

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At 26 and 52 weeks, members of the second group reported greater improvement in function and back pain compared to the first group.

Pain intensity and some mental health measures improved for all members of the second group. But those who used cognitive-behavioral therapy did not see improvement beyond six months.

Those using mindfulness-based stress reduction, however, continued to see improvement a year later, leading the researchers to conclude it may be an effective treatment for chronic low-back pain.

Refocusing attention

Meditation can help ease pain by moving your focus to something more quiet and calm, Ms. Ehrman says.

“When your focus is on the pain, obviously that increases the pain,” she says. “For people who meditate, their muscle tension and heart rate drops, their respiration slows and breaths gets deeper. All those things have impact on the pain.”

More research needs to be done to learn what’s happening in the brain during mindfulness meditation and why it alters the relaxation response, as well as things like pain and mood, she says.

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The good news is that it’s easy to practice at home and can be an effective way manage pain management without the use of narcotics,” Ms. Ehrman says.

“It’s about sitting, or lying down, in a place that is free of interruptions, as much as possible, then gently closing your eyes to quiet other distractions and just focus simply on your breath,” she says.

Like anything, mediation requires practice, Ms. Ehrman says.

“It’s all about being able to build the skill of awareness in order to train your brain to focus on your breath, or a word or phrase that is positive,” she says.

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