Chronic pain impacts the ability to live life to the fullest. When pain is chronic, it affects more than just physical wellbeing. A recent study tested the impact of a new treatment on chronic pain with the hopes of better understanding the connection between chronic back pain and mental health. The results are promising. 

Why studying chronic back pain and mental health matters

Chronic back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world. 8 percent of adults in America struggle with the condition and costs $12 billion in healthcare costs and over 80 million lost days of work. Sometimes the cause of back pain is easy to identify but more often it’s not. 

The first connection between chronic back pain and mental health was made in a 1946 study with U.S. war veterans. The results of this groundbreaking study attributed psychological stress, namely anxiety, to chronic back pain. With this revelation, a recent study experimented with a new treatment plan rooted in the belief that chronic back pain and mental health are interconnected.

The New Treatment: Psychophysiologic symptom relief therapy (PSRT)

Psychophysiology is a branch of physiology that examines the relationship between mental and physical processes. According to the researchers who conducted the recent study of chronic back pain and mental health, PSRT helped participants “gain awareness of the connection between pain and psychological processes and a better understanding of the variety of potentially modifiable factors that contribute to chronic back pain.” 

Compared to mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) that focuses on helping people improve how they process psychological stress, PSRT dives deeper into the underlying stressors and conditioned responses they have developed to stress. With promising results, roughly 60 percent of participants who underwent this treatment had no pain six months after the experiment ended.

Additional Stress Reduction Techniques

While chronic back pain and mental health can be a chicken and egg scenario, what is clear is that one exacerbates the other when they co-exist. A 6-month PSRT plan may not be viable for all, but other treatments can help alleviate chronic back pain and mental health challenges. Stress-management techniques are a good place to start, but additional treatments can improve chronic back pain and mental health. 

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)

Practicing mindfulness means paying more attention to thoughts, feelings, and surroundings without judgment. Learning how to improve mindfulness helps reduce negative thoughts and feelings, including anxiety. MBSR has been a long-used treatment option for chronic back pain and mental health concerns. 

Progressive muscle relaxation

This technique helps you decrease anxiety by becoming more aware of how you can tense and then relax your body. The muscles are first actively relaxed, then tensed for a short while, and then fully relaxed again. These steps are repeated with other muscle groups until the entire body is relaxed.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a psychological treatment that helps connect the dots between thoughts and behaviors. Identifying negative reactions to chronic back pain and working to change them into positive thoughts is the goal of this therapy. Both individual and group therapy can have a positive impact on chronic back pain and mental health.

Understanding the connection between chronic back pain and mental health is foundational to developing the right treatment plan for symptom relief.