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A study finds mindfulness meditation can be more powerful for low-back pain than standard treatment options.

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 study funded by the USNational Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers from the Group Health Cooperative, Seattle, and the University of Washington, Seattle, conducted a study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which 342 participants aged 20 to 70 used one of the two mind-body approaches or sought usual care for one 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.

“It is vital that we identify effective non-pharmacological treatment options for the millions of people who suffer from daily pain,” said Josephine Briggs, M.D., director of NCCIH. “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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