Effects of Meditation on Chronic Low Back Pain

More and more older adults are seeking help for their chronic low back pain outside of traditional medical practices. Complementary and alternative approaches to medicine (CAM) are a source of hope to many. These mind-body techniques include Reiki therapy, acupuncture, BodyTalk, Shiatsu massage, meditation therapy, and many others.

In this study, one of the methods called mindfulness meditation is used with a group of older adults (65 years old and older). All subjects had moderately intense low back pain every day or nearly every day for the last three months or more.

Everyone was in a weekly mindfulness meditation group for 90 minutes. The session was led by trained health professionals. A daily home program of guided meditation was also prescribed and followed. Three specific meditation practices were taught including a body scan, sitting practice, and walking meditation. Each of these techniques was described in this article.

A second group was used as the comparison (control) group. They met the same requirements for the study but were placed on a waiting list. No treatment or meditation techniques were given to this group until after the study was completed.

Since this was a pilot study, many different variables were tested and measured. These included pain intensity, acceptance of pain, and physical function. Sleep, concentration, and quality of life (QOL) were also reviewed. All measures were taken before, right after, and three months after treatment.

Sixty-eight per cent of the subjects completed the program from start to finish. This was a measure of adherence, which was of interest to the researchers. They wanted to know if older adults would complete such a program. The authors suggest that greater compliance would have been possible. But other health and family obligations got in the way for some participants.

Differences in pain, physical function, and QOL were not significant before and after treatment. But the results in these areas were better when compared with the control group who got worse over time. More than half in the treatment group reported being able to sleep and concentrate better after treatment. They were able to take less medication for their pain and sleep problems.

Many of the older adults continued the meditation practice. Tests showed the treatment group had a higher rate of acceptance of their pain compared with the control group. This means they were able to let go of the struggle, accept the pain, and avoid judging themselves.

The authors conclude that an eight-week meditation program is possible with community-based older adults. Sustained improvements in physical function and pain acceptance may be expected. Mind-body therapy such as meditation may be a way to help reduce dependence on pain medications. Learning to live with chronic pain may help seniors stay active longer.

Natalia E. Morone, et al. Mindfulness Meditation for the Treatment of Chronic Low Back Pain in Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. In Pain. February 2008. Vol. 134. No. 3. Pp. 310-319.

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