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For Back Pain, Talk It Out

If your back is aching, you might be stuck in a horizontal position. At least you’re not trapped there alone: Thirty-one million Americans have lower back pain at any given time, according to the American Chiropractic Association. Back pain is one of the most common reasons people call in sick to work or go to visit a doctor, and Americans spend $50 billion a year on treatment. On the plus side, back pain is not usually caused by anything serious like cancer, infection or a broken bone. But it’s notoriously hard to find the root cause of the pain, making it harder to treat, and up to 10 percent of sufferers go on to experience chronic pain, lasting longer than three months.

There’s a promising new way to find relief. In a study from Royal Holloway, a public research college at the University of London, talking therapy was found to help patients who had been experiencing reoccurring low back pain. Half the patients received physiotherapy, in the form of group fitness classes. The other half went through Contextual Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CCBT), working with a trained psychologist, one-on-one, for up to 8 sessions. In the therapy sessions, patients worked through their mental distress, and learned to accept that the pain couldn’t be cured, but that they could still live life to the fullest.

Which treatment method worked best? Ideally, it would be a combination of both, the researchers have determined.

“Patients and clinicians felt the best solution would be to deal with both physical difficulties and psychological problems,” wrote professor Tamar Pincus in the published study. Dr Stephen Simpson, director of research and programs at Arthritis Research UK, added, “We know that for some people with chronic low back pain psychological stress is a major factor, and therefore there is a significant challenge to find effective treatments. This pilot study has shown that combining physical and psychological approaches could be the way forward to treat this common, often disabling condition more effectively.” 

A larger clinical study is now being planned to see if the magic combination of talk therapy and physical training can relieve pain faster, and reduce treatment costs in the long run.


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Spirituality & Health’s Wellbeing Editor, Kathryn Drury Wagner, is based in Savannah. She’s been a contributor to the magazine for many years, and she loves sharing ways to build a healthy, mindful, and sustainable lifestyle. 


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