Back Pain? Meditate on It

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Young business man holding his lower back at work

Mindfulness May Help Manage Chronic Lower Back Pain

Chronic lower back pain is a common issue among adults. Some might turn to medications or even surgery for a quick fix.

But less aggressive treatments such as mindfulness-based stress reduction may be a better option to try first, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study showed that people with chronic lower back pain had greater improvement in back pain and movement problems after 26 weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction through meditation and yoga, compared to those who underwent more usual treatment options.

People who had a form of talk therapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy had similar results as those who practiced mindfulness in the study.

According to Dr. Eeric Truumees, an orthopedic spine surgeon from the Ascension Seton Brain & Spine Institute (SBSI), this is a preliminary study with several limitations. However, it shows mindfulness could be another nonsurgical treatment option for chronic lower back pain that is unrelated to nerve pressure, spinal instability and deformity.

About 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their lifetimes, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) . Chronic lower back pain can be difficult to treat because the causes can be unclear.

“Back pain can be a psychosocial issue,” said Dr. Truumees. “We know the amount of pain people have is related to number of factors, but depression and anxiety are often key factors.”

To address these psychosocial factors, the SBSI works with experts from the Ascension Seton Mind Institute to provide comprehensive care for their physical, mental and emotional health. Together, the team identifies patients’ needs to provide the right treatment options, which can include cognitive behavioral therapy or physical therapy. This approach helps prevent people from having unnecessary surgery.

However, even for those patients requiring surgery, the treatment doesn’t end there. The team provides patients with strategies and exercises to prevent the back pain from returning.

“With back pain, patients should first try non-operative management options such as core strengthening or coping strategies to deal with the pain,” said Dr. Truumees. “Surgery should only be considered when a non-operative treatment program isn’t getting patients back to their normal function.”

Some of the most common treatments people use for chronic lower back pain include: hot or cold packs, strengthening exercises, physical therapy and pain medications, according to NINDS.

To learn more about back pain from Dr. Truumees and Dr. Enrique Pena, an SBSI expert in back and neck problems, check out the Ascension Seton HealthLine Podcast.