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Long-lasting lower back pain responds surprisingly well to either mindfulness-based stress reduction or cognitive behavioral therapy. Such a mind-body approach is not usually considered a mainstream treatment for chronic back pain, but a new study in JAMA suggests that both deserve far greater respect than they usually get.

A Randomized Trial for People with Low Back Pain:

In this trial, 342 adults with chronic back pain were randomly assigned to get usual care, classes in mindfulness and meditation or cognitive behavioral therapy. The average length of time they had been suffering from low back pain was 7 years. Those who had 8 classes in either mind-body approach also got usual care, so they were not asked to do without medication or other medical attention.

Benefits of a Mind-Body Approach:

Both the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach and the cognitive behavioral therapy produced significant improvement. Roughly 44 percent of the participants in each group found that they were functioning better and their back pain was less bothersome at the end of six months. That compared to 26.6 percent of the people getting standard care.

Given the recent CDC guideline recommending against narcotic medications for chronic pain, it would seem that a mind-body approach is well worth considering.

JAMA, March 22/29, 2016

Other Benefits:

Low back pain is not the only condition that may respond well to mindfulness meditation or cognitive behavior therapy. There is evidence that both these mind-body therapies may help insomnia, control blood sugar or make PTSD less overwhelming. They may even help a person avoid a repeat heart attack. You may need to search a bit to find a therapist skilled in a cognitive behavioral approach or a class in mindfulness-based stress reduction, as they are not always considered part of mainstream medicine.


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  1. Jackie

    Weak back for many years, but able and wanting to work manually, just being careful. Recent problem was finding myself unable to straighten up on rising from bed, then it got worse and I was bending to one side! I feared becoming a crippled woman. Chiropractor said I was acidic. Alkaline diet might help. Then my husband asked could it have anything to do with the amount of nuts I eat? I had been consuming quite a few cocoa covered almonds every day, plus a few walnuts, one Brazil nut for selenium, pecans – some dark chocolate, beetroot, wheat etc., all considered to be ‘healthy’. I checked the web and found that too high a diet in ‘exolates’ (had never heard of it), can cause kidney stones (not a problem I have) but can cause joint pain and other problems. I stopped the nuts, chocolate, most wheat, beetroot…..within two days I woke up and could stand straight! It seemed like a miracle. I have found that too much sugar makes my back ache too………so I must keep that low perhaps, but I am so grateful for the web and finding possible solutions. I will always have a weak back, but to be able to stand straight is wonderful.
    I am also doing yoga again. A balanced diet is so important – don’t over indulge in any one product – and maybe we all have intolerances to certain foods too. We must listen to our bodies. Great information from your readers. Thank you.

  2. marie

    Go to a good chiropractor and get it fixed!

  3. Carol

    I have found that my favorite juices–grape, grapefruit, cranberry, and now Orange juice is starting–will give me lower back pain. If I stay away from it, it will clear my body in a week. Dollar General had the only juice that didn’t affect me this was but now it is starting to do that. If I don’t drink these fruit juices I don’t get a stiff back. I think some chemical is added that brings on this result. I’m sure no doctor would believe me so I kept it to myself and didn’t tell anyone until now. I had taken a vitamin pill a few weeks ago that had the same strong effect [alpha lipoic acid] and I threw those pills out. It is the nerve system that is the victim because it is hard to bend over and to walk; I am walking slower and stiffer until it clears my body and do specific exercies. I learned not to drink fruit juice unless I make it myself.

  4. Teresa

    Also medical insurance does not always cover the treatment. I found my back pain greatly helped by massage therapists that practice ortho-bionomy. I am able and willing to pay for this health care because it is so helpful. But others are not because they can’t afford it. Or since main stream, allopathic medicine doesn’t recognize alternative modalities, people are unwilling to try it.

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