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NIH Record - 75th Anniversary - National Institutes of Health

Mindfulness Meditation Offers Relief for Low-Back Pain

A man holds his lower back

NCCIH-funded researchers recently found that mindfulness meditation may be an effective treatment for chronic 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 NCCIH.

Researchers from the Group Health Cooperative, Seattle, and the University of Washington conducted a study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which 342 participants ages 20 to 70 used one of the two mind and body approaches or sought usual care for 1 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 2-hour group session on their respective approach per week for 8 weeks and supplemented their treatment with workbooks and CDs for practice at home. The study was led by Dr. Daniel Cherkin 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 NCCIH director Dr. Josephine Briggs. “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.”

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