Medicating Back Pain With Healthy Thoughts


Your back pain can be helped by cognitive behavioral psychotherapy just as much as it can by physical therapy, researchers recently found.

The study, conducted by the Rehabilitation Centre Blixembosch in the Netherlands and published last week in the journal Musculoskeletal Disorders from BioMed Central, divided 223 low-back pain sufferers into four categories. Some received physical therapy, some received cognitive therapy (a type of counseling that retrains behavior and thinking patterns), some received of combination of the two, and some were part of a control group that received no treatment.

Patients in the first two categories found themselves improving at an equal rate over the 10 weeks of three weekly sessions, experiencing a higher degree of physical functioning and less pain intensity. This didn’t seem to surprise researchers; cognitive therapy has been shown to help a variety of ills, from eating disorders to panic attacks.

“People with chronic back pain tend to start avoiding things that may actually be helpful to them, but cognitive behavioral therapy changed how they think about themselves,” Dr. Scott Eathorne, medical director of athletic medicine at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Michigan told “CBT not only addresses the physical aspects of the pain but starts to look at how they think about their pain and how they behave.”

Used by 1 in 4 mental health professionals in America, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is booming these days, with many studies validating its effectiveness. Founded by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck} in the 1950s and 1960s, the method posits the notion that thoughts cause emotions, not the other way around. It helps patients change their habitual thinking and reactions to ease pain, worry, depression, and anxiety. The basic idea is: No matter what happens, you always have a choice about your response. And, apparently, certain kinds of back pain.


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