Chronic Back Pain: Can Psychological Therapy Be An Effective Treatment?
Chronic back pain is an issue for many people. Roughly 65 million Americans have complained to their doctors about back pain with about 8 percent having chronic back pain that limits their everyday activities. (1)
Chronic back pain is the single leading cause of disability and one of the most common reasons for many Americans missing work. (2)
If you’re one of the many Americans who have dealt with chronic back pain, you may have tried a number of different things ranging from massage therapy to medications.
Any of those remedies may have worked to give you relief from chronic back pain, but did you know that for about 85 percent of people who experience chronic back pain, there is no identifiable cause of their pain? (3) Of course, there are also plenty of people who do have an identifiable cause of their back pain, such as sciatica or disc injury. But massage therapy or medications still do not work.
Though chronic back pain is very common, not everyone responds to pain and pain management the same way. If two people experience the same amount of pain, their reactions to it can be very different and a major part of that can be caused by their psychological attitudes.
Even if your chronic back pain is being treated by medications, massage therapy, or physical therapy, it’s important to realize and understand the psychological factors that affect your pain.
It’s In Your Head
With Western medicine, our bodies have been treated separately from our minds, leaving doctors to only look for physical explanations for our pain.
However, there may be more to feeling pain.
If your physical movement is restricted, you can experience psychological distress, which can worsen the pain. We’re taught by experience that if we feel pain it means that there’s something physically wrong with our body. For some, a one-time injury can trigger years of chronic pain.
For example, if you suffer with anxiety and expect the worst, having a mild twitch in your back could leave you thinking that there’s more to it than just a twitch, leaving you not able to control your distress and not able to focus on anything else. Therefore, you basically become consumed with the pain.
A recently published study shows how psychological therapy changes how a person perceives pain.
Psychological therapy is helping to educate a patient about the role of the brain in generating chronic pain and how to help the patient gain a better understanding of their pain as they engage in movements that they have been afraid to do. Pain reprocessing therapy (PRT), also helps the patient address emotions that may exacerbate their pain. (5) This treatment for chronic pain is a way to reprocess pain signals in a healthy way in order to reduce or eliminate chronic pain.
The study took place from August 2017 to November 2019. There were a total of 151 participants, ranging in ages from 21 to 70 years. This study included 151 subjects, half of whom were male and half female, who all suffered from mild to moderate symptoms of chronic back pain. (4)
The participants were assigned to three groups:
- Pain reprocessing therapy (PRT)
- A placebo treatment involving an injection into the back of a saline solution
- Standard back therapy treatment
The participants who were selected to undergo PRT received one telehealth session with a physician and then eight PRT sessions over a period of 4 weeks.
The placebo group received injections of saline at the site of where they have the most pain in their back.
The last group were asked to continue their usual treatment and to not start new treatments. (4)
According to the results of the study, within the PRT group, two-thirds of the group were pain free or nearly pain-free after PRT treatment. Most of the participants had remained pain free for a year. (4)
Those who were in the placebo group had some pain but it was a significantly less amount. The group that did not change their treatment and continued the treatment that they were on, had no pain reduction by the end of the study. (4)
The results of the study also found that PRT is effective for other chronic pain conditions such as tension headaches and knee pain.
Psychological therapy is a new way to look at how to treat chronic back pain. While PRT may work for those who have chronic back pain without a physical identifiable cause, it is not an appropriate treatment for secondary pain that is caused by an injury or inflammation.
Do you suffer from chronic back pain? Learn more about the “panic switch” that is stuck in overdrive that causes pain and find out how to finally turn it off.