Back pain can be caused by so many things. When back pain becomes chronic, it can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life. It can be debilitating if it’s severe enough. Knowing this, a group of Japanese researchers set out to determine if cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has a place in treating back pain.
CBT is a talking therapy. Its goal is to help patients understand why they react to stimuli the way they do, then teach them ways to cope with said stimuli in order to create positive reactions rather than negative ones. CBT is a treatment commonly utilized in addiction recovery.
Researchers wanted to know if CBT could successfully alter a person’s perception of pain, thereby offering some measure of relief. What they discovered turns out to be quite fascinating. If nothing else, their results indicate that more study into the relationship between pain perception and mental state is worth pursuing.
Some Limited Pain Relief
Researchers divided forty-six patients into two groups. The study group received CBT while the control group did not. Both groups were analyzed psychologically to reveal patterns of catastrophic thinking and depressive symptoms. Patients were also asked to rate their level of pain at various intervals throughout the study.
Some participants in the study group reported a limited amount of pain relief. That led researchers to conclude that CBT might be helpful in reducing a patient’s perception of pain. However, there were two other findings that were more important.
CBT and the Effects of Pain
Researchers observed an interesting correlation between how pain affects patients and whether or not they received CBT. Patients in the study group tolerated their chronic pain better. They were less likely to report anxiety, depression, and a whole host of negative thoughts and emotions. Patients in the study group were also less likely to focus on their pain.
Control group patients demonstrated the exact opposite. They were more likely to exhibit “an excessive focus on searching for pain” along with a “distortion of the actual experience”. Control group patients were more likely to express anxiety and medical dependency.
We all respond to pain in different ways. To some people, even the slightest amount of pain is cause to check out for the day. Other people seem to be able to carry on with normal life despite a tremendous amount of pain. According to the research, CBT might play a role in assisting those on the lower end of the scale.
Background Factors and CBT
The other big thing researchers discovered is that background factors can influence both pain perception and CBT’s effectiveness as a pain treatment. For example, patients with poor language skills do not tend to fare as well. The same goes for those who bring other physical and mental health issues into the pain treatment arena.
Researchers are not exactly sure why background factors influence CBT effectiveness, but this appears to be the case. This would seem to indicate a limited benefit from treating pain with CBT.
Still Much to Learn
Doctors at Lone Star Pain Medicine, a chronic pain clinic in Weatherford, Texas, say that we still have much to learn about pain. They say that treating chronic pain is not always as simple as offering an injection. Pain can be caused by both known and unknown factors. Moreover, patients respond differently.
If CBT is useful for some chronic pain patients, it is worth developing further. If not, little has been lost by investigating it. One way or the other, finding new ways to treat chronic pain gives more patients hope for relief.