New study says meditation is more effective than medication

Because low back pain is so widespread, with a variety of potential causes, sufferers find treatment to be elusive or ineffective. In a push to create more viable alternatives and inform patients of their options, researchers have been investigating the many ways to improve back pain.

In a recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that meditation may be more effective than some standard back pain care methods, like medication. The prescribed program, called "mindfulness-based stress reduction," involved group and individual sessions of meditation and simple yoga stretches and helped many participants improve their pain and maintain that well-being for at least one year.

The method
Researchers randomly assigned 342 participants into one of three groups: the first that would complete the meditation (or MBSR) program, the second that would attend cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, and a third that would elect to undergo one of a few standard medical treatments. Each of the participants had suffered from low back pain for at least three months, but on average, they had been living with the condition for seven years.

After six months of treatment, 60 percent of the participants in the MBSR group showed "meaningful" improvement in both their pain and ability to complete daily activities, like walking and standing for long periods of time. In the cognitive behavioral therapy group, 58 percent of patients showed improvement while, in the standard care options group, that number was only 44 percent.

One year after beginning treatment, 69 percent of participants in the MBSR group were still reporting improvements, despite most of them not having attended all eight group yoga and meditation sessions.

Why is meditation effective?
In a news release on the study, Daniel Cherkin, the lead author and senior investigator at Seattle's Group Health Research Institute, said he's not sure why meditation is so effective in treating back pain, but mental health and physical well-being have often been connected.

"Neurological research has demonstrated how the body and mind are truly intertwined," Cherkin told HealthDay News.

This is why cognitive behavioral therapy also showed positive results for the participants. However, meditation might have more of an impact. Instead of seeking to actively change thoughts and emotions, it simply asks individuals to become more aware of them, with more of a focus on relaxation and inner tranquility.

While the study shows promise for these methods benefiting sufferers of back pain, the authors stress that these results are only preliminary and are not a recommendation for every patient to try it.

"This is not for everyone with low back pain," Cherkin told HealthDay. "Different things work for different people. But this study shows that there may be value in offering people approaches that focus on the mind."

If you're suffering from low back pain and looking for other ways to treat it, schedule an appointment with a professional chiropractor today.