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Psychological Treatments Improve Outcomes for Back Pain Sufferers

t consistent effect was a reduction in pain intensity.

This was somewhat surprising, Kerns said, because when psychologists first began developing interventions for chronic pain several decades ago, the goal was not to reduce pain but to help patients live with their pain more successfully.

“However, a growing body of knowledge suggests that these interventions are actually having a primary effect on people’s experience of pain,” he said.

The review found that psychological interventions also yielded improvements in health-related quality of life, work-related disability, interference of pain with daily living and depression.

Not all treatments were equally effective. Cognitive-behavioral and self-regulatory treatments seemed to yield the greatest effects, particularly when compared to waiting list control groups. Multidisciplinary approaches that included a psychological component also stood out on some measures, reducing pain interference and work-related disability when compared to other active treatments.

According to Dennis Turk, Ph.D., a professor of anesthesiology and pain research at the University of Washington in Seattle, patients with chronic pain sometimes fail to recognize the value of psychological treatments because they’ve been set up to expect a cure.

“Even the latest and greatest treatments don’t cure people with chronic pain,” he said. “Psychological interventions are not cures, but they do reduce pain and improve function and they are important components in the treatment of people with chronic pain.”

Turk added that psychological interventions are also cost-effective when compared to other treatments for chronic low back pain — a key finding, considering that estimates for treatment-related costs range from $20 billion to $80 billion a year in the United States.

“Surgery, opioids, nerve blocks, spinal cord stimulators, implantable drug delivery syst
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