Pain in the back - mind could be the cure

Researchers in the Netherlands suggest that mental exercises could be just as effective as physically working the muscles when it comes to easing back pain.

They believe their work could bring relief to the thousands of chronic back pain sufferers.

The study found that cognitive behavioral therapy is as effective as active physical therapy in alleviating chronic back pain.

However it seems that using the methods together did not improve their back pain even further.

Dr Rob Smeets, the lead author of the study from the University of Maastricht, and colleagues from across the Netherlands recruited 223 people suffering from chronic back pain.

Over a period of 10 weeks, one group received mental therapy, another had physical treatment and the third had a combination of the two.

The aim of the physical therapy was to make the back muscles strong by way of aerobic and other exercises, while the cognitive therapy aimed at helping patients get over their fear of being physically more active.

The study subjects were given the treatments for a period of 10 weeks and their psychological and physical functions were tested both before and after the study period by way of the Pain Rating Index, the Roland Disability Questionnaire and the Beck Depression Inventory methods.

The physical treatment attempted to restore back muscle strength with aerobic training on a bicycle and strengthening exercises.

The mental therapy tried to help patients overcome their reluctance to be more active, teaching them how to face obstacles for recovery by using problem-solving skills.

The researchers assessed how mobile the patients were before and after treatment and they discovered that both physical treatment and mental therapy significantly reduced the pain experienced by the participants compared to those who received no treatment at all.

However lead researcher Rob Smeets says combining the treatments does not improve patients' condition further than using the individual treatments, and the study showed the short-term results of the treatments.

He added that the type of therapy should depend on the level of disability due to backache.

An analysis of the results showed that those who were on either cognitive or physical therapy reported less back complaints and had better mobility than those in the no therapy group.

The group that received a combination of the two therapies improved, but not more than the other two therapy groups.

According to U.S. National Institutes of Health, 80 per cent of Americans have, at some point, suffered from acute backache.

Around 90 per cent of acute back pain is cured within a month.

The rest of the 10 per cent is classified as chronic backache, which lasts more than three months.

In many cases, back pain is more a lifestyle disorder than a clinical illness.

The study is published in journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.

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