Can meditation relieve back pain

Above all, pain is a matter of the mind. This is especially true for the pain in the back, even if many doctors and patients still believe that back pain is a mechanical problem, with injections, physiotherapy, painkillers and, in case of doubt, even operations, the way to relief. However, the evidence that it is the perception of suffering and how to deal with it is growing in abundance.

In the trade magazine Journal of the American Medical Association (online) doctors from the USA show that conventional treatment does not work best for chronic complaints in the lumbar region. Rather, patients responded better to "softer" practices such as mindfulness meditation and behavioral therapy.

Doctors working with Daniel Cherkin divided 342 adults with chronic back pain into three groups. One was treated conventionally with injections, pain relievers, and physiotherapy. The other two groups either participated in eight two-hour sessions in behavioral therapy or learned through yoga and meditation to better manage and take care of their pain and feelings.

Among those participants who dealt more intensively with their complaints in this way, 61 percent felt a significant improvement after six months. After all, 58 percent of the participants experienced significant relief under behavioral therapy, while this was only achieved in 44 percent of the test persons with the usual therapy.

When the participants were asked how much they limited the symptoms, meditation and behavioral therapy also gave more favorable results. "These successes are all the more remarkable because only a good half of the test subjects ever attended six of the eight sessions," said the authors.

"How exactly this therapy works and what mechanisms are used is primarily an academic question," write Madhav Goyal and Jennifer Haythornthwaite of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in an accompanying comment. "Patients with chronic pain want to live with less discomfort, so these successful treatments for the mind and body need to be readily available."

Many doctors would still be skeptical about these therapy options. "Such high-quality studies, however, provide further arguments for guaranteeing therapy methods for body and soul," the authors say.