Meditation techniques such as mindfulness have long been associated with better stress management.
Now, a new study revealed that mindfulness meditation may provide pain relief to adults who are suffering from chronic lower back pain.
"Most people would think mindfulness meditation would help stress," said Dr. Natalia Morone, lead author of the study. "They would not typically think it could actually lead to reduced pain or lead them to have less pain interference during their day-to-day activities."
How Mindfulness Helps Adults With Back Pain
Mindfulness is a simple technique that allows a person to be fully engaged in the present moment and helps veer the mind away from distractions. Practicing mindfulness has been previously found to ease emotional pain by 44 percent.
In the new study, Morone and her colleagues examined 282 seniors with long-term lower back pain whose average age was 74 years old. The seniors were randomly divided into two groups that were each enrolled in a two-month mindful meditation course.
Participants in the mindfulness group were taught four methods of meditation for the first time. They used mindful awareness of thoughts and sensations as well as directed breathing in walking, sitting or lying down positions. They were also taught mindful stretching during the first eight weeks.
The other group participated in a two-month healthy aging education program that discussed issues such as blood pressure management and stretching, although not pain management specifically.
After completion, the programs were followed by monthly sessions for six months.
The research team found that while both groups in terms of pain and mobility, the mindfulness group improved significantly more by some measures.
About 37 percent of the participants in the second group said their back pain had eased after the eight-week program, but the number was even higher among the mindfulness group, in which about 80 percent reported their conditions had eased.
Six months later, about 42 percent of the participants in the second group said their back pain minimally improved, compared with 76 percent from the mindfulness group.
Researchers said that with respect to "pain self-efficacy," which is a standard measurement of pain control, the mindfulness group was ahead at a two-month mark. Six months later, however, the difference disappeared.
Additionally, when the physical function improvements observed in the mindfulness group dropped, it matched the gains achieved by the non-mindfulness group.
Possibilities For New Treatments
Morone and her colleagues did not compare the mindfulness program to other treatments for back pain, but they recommend it as an option that does not involve surgery or medications.
The authors did not report how consistent the treatments were delivered or how faithfully the participants practiced during sessions. At the same time, the study covers a small scale. Still, experts said the findings are the first of its kind.
"That's exciting, because it offers some new movement in the realm of possible therapies," said Dr. John Mafi, assistant professor of medicine with the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and was not part of the research. "It's definitely worthy of continued study with a larger group of patients." he added.
Lastly, researchers suggest that to sustain the effects of mindfulness meditation, patients should exercise a brisk walking program every day.
The new study is featured in the JAMA Internal Medicine.
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