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New research backs holistic health for chronic back pain: mindful meditation is indeed effective

Mindful meditation

(NaturalNews) Tens of millions of people have long relied on meditation as a way to calm the mind and perhaps even achieve enlightenment, though traditional medical practitioners and others who simply did not buy into the concept have often condemned the practice.

Now, however, new research conducted by the Group Health Research Institute shows that quieting and focusing the mind is one way to help decrease chronic low back pain, and without dangerous, habit-forming opioid-based painkillers.

As reported by Medical Xpress and the National Institutes of Health, scientists and researchers explored alternatives to pain medication in treating low back pain, which is a chronic and costly condition that affects some eight in 10 Americans at some point during their lives.

Researchers with the institute compared a particular form of meditation called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) with cognitive behavioral therapy, the latter of which is like talk therapy, to see if either of the interventions would alleviate pain.

Dr. Daniel Cherkin, PhD, a senior investigator at Group Health, said the study's results were encouraging.

"We're constantly looking for new and innovative ways to help our patients," Dr. 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."

"Effective nonpharmacologic treatment options"

Training in MBSR produced meaningful improvements in functioning and chronic low back pain at intervals of six months and one year in a randomized, controlled trial involving some 350 patients at Group Health. The study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association as "Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Usual Care on Back Pain and Functional Limitations in Adults with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial."

The practice is increasing in popularity in the U.S., and it is also becoming more widespread and available. The practice involves the observation, acknowledgement and acceptance of feelings and thoughts, including feelings of pain. In addition, the training also provides some simple yoga poses to help practitioners be more aware of their bodies.

"We are excited about these results, because chronic low back pain is such a common problem and can be disabling and difficult to treat," said Dr. Cherkin, as reported by Medical Xpress.

In recent years, patients in the U.S., as well as the government, have been spending more and more money on treatments for back pain, much of which has included dangerous opioid drugs that have contributed to an addiction epidemic. Many of those treatments did not produce nearly as good results as mindful meditation.

"It is vital that we identify effective nonpharmacologic treatment options for 25 million people who suffer from daily pain, in the United States," said Josephine Briggs, MD, director of the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. "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."

Longer-lasting benefits with far less risk

As further reported by Medical Express:

The trial enrolled 342 Group Health patients aged 20 to 70. Their low back pain had lasted at least three months and could not be attributed to a specific cause. The trial participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first two groups received training in eight weekly two-hour group sessions in addition to whatever care they chose to seek independent of the study. One of these groups received training in MBSR and the other in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The third group received only their usual care.

Compared to the group receiving usual care, participants in both the MBSR and CBT groups were significantly more likely to experience clinically meaningful (at least 30 percent) improvements from baseline in functional limitations and in self-reports of how much back pain bothered them.

"We are not saying 'It's all in your mind,'" Cherkin noted. "Rather, as recent brain research has shown, the mind and the body are intimately intertwined, including in how they sense and respond to pain. Both mindfulness and CBT involve the brain as well as the body. We found that these approaches were as helpful for people with chronic back pain as are other effective treatments for back pain."

They also had longer-lasting benefits and posed far less danger than conventional therapies.







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