Study: Mindfulness-based stress reduction can ease chronic back pain

Millions of people suffer with chronic, lower back pain.

But a new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows many sufferers can find relief – simply by taking a Mind-Body Approach.

“I lived, I worked, I didn't have any issues with disability,” recalled Dr. Esther Yaniv, M.D. “But, the back pain was there."

Yaniv is an Austin physician who specializes in treating back pain.

She’s also one of about 80-percent of American adults who have suffered or will suffer with chronic, lower back pain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The athletic doctor said it started in her mid-20’s.

"I noticed it when I was doing rounds - attending as a resident, or as in intern - and, standing for longer than a half hour or an hour my back would feel terribly uncomfortable,” said Yaniv.

After trying conventional treatments, including anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers and steroids, three years ago Yaniv turned to Yoga – one of several forms of mindfulness.

"Basically, what that is, it's just a simple concept of paying attention to the present on purpose,” explained Dr. Smitha Murthy, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Seton Mind Institute. “And, just experiencing each moment and being more aware of each moment to moment experience - including body sensations and how the body is feeling."

Murthy said regular practice of mindfulness helps the body better deal with stress and its physical manifestations.

“We're still learning a lot about how the mind and body are connected,” Murthy said. “And, we know that before we used to separate them into two different silos and thought all of the physical symptoms are separate and mind symptoms are separate. But, now we're realizing there's a lot of inter-connectability with these two domains."

In fact, the new study finds chronic back pain sufferers who practiced mindfulness-based stress reduction, such as yoga or meditation for about six-months, saw a greater reduction in pain than those who went the traditional route.

“They don't know exactly how that happens,” said Murthy. “But, they have done various neuro-imaging that shows that the areas where we perceive the pain - that gets lessened in the brain."

And, it’s working for Yaniv, who rolls out that yoga mat at least four times a week.

“If you can learn to reconnect with yourself through the practice of yoga and movement meditation, then you start to become more aware,” said Yaniv. “Awareness leads to understanding what the signals of your body are - what it's telling you, what it means. And, then you can adjust."

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