News Release

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Study finds mindfulness meditation offers relief for low-back pain

Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may prove more effective than usual treatment in alleviating chronic low-back pain, according to a new study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health.

“It is vital that we identify effective non-pharmacological treatment options for 25 million people who suffer from daily pain in the United States”

Josephine Briggs, M.D.,Director, NCCIH

Researchers from the Group Health Cooperative, Seattle, and the University of Washington, Seattle, conducted a study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which 342 participants aged 20 to 70 used one of the two mind and body approaches or sought usual care for one year. At 26 and 52 weeks, participants using MBSR and CBT had greater improvement in function and back pain compared to the group that remained in standard care. Though pain intensity and some mental health measures improved in both groups, those using CBT did not see improvement beyond 26 weeks. Those using MBSR, however, continued to see improvement at 52 weeks, leading researchers to conclude MBSR may be an effective treatment for chronic low-back pain.

MBSR brings together elements of mindfulness meditation and yoga, whereas CBT is a form of psychotherapy that trains individuals to modify specific thoughts and behaviors. For the study, participants in the group using MBSR and the group using CBT attended a two-hour group session on their respective approach per week for eight weeks and supplemented their treatment with workbooks and CDs for practice at home. The study was led by Daniel Cherkin, Ph.D., a senior scientific investigator at the Group Health Research Institute, Seattle.

“It is vital that we identify effective non-pharmacological treatment options for 25 million people who suffer from daily pain in the United States,” said Josephine Briggs, M.D., director of NCCIH. “The results from this research affirm that non-drug/non-opioid therapies, such as meditation, can help manage chronic low-back pain. Physicians and their patients can use this information to inform treatment decisions.”

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health's mission is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health approaches and their roles in improving health and health care. For additional information, call NCCIH’s Clearinghouse toll free at 1-888-644-6226. Follow us on TwitterFacebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

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