Most people suffer from back pain at one time or another, but chronic back pain caused by injury or an underlying structural problem doesn’t go away. Serious back problems such as spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease and spondylolisthesis can cause chronic back pain that is severely debilitating. Patients can end up bedridden as a result of their condition, which in time will significantly impact on their day-to-day life.
In an attempt to combat the effects of chronic pain, medical professionals spend a great deal of time looking at ways to help their patients manage their pain. A recent study carried out by researchers at the Royal Holloway, University of London, has found that patients suffering from chronic lower back pain benefited from a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and physiotherapy.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
It is becoming increasingly common for patients to be referred for psychological therapies as well as physical therapies. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one such technique.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is usually used to treat patients suffering from anxiety and depression, but it can also be used to as part of a treatment plan for physical problems and chronic health conditions. CBT helps patients deal with problems by breaking issues down into manageable chunks. The patient is taught to look for practical ways to rid their mind of negative thoughts, which in time helps them to change the way they feel. CBT can’t “cure” a physical problem, but it can help a person feel stronger and better able to cope with their symptoms.
Study to Measure Effect of CBT on Chronic Back Pain
89 patients took part in the Royal Holloway – London of London feasibility study, all of whom suffered from high degrees of stress as a result of their painful lower back conditions. As a result of their condition, the patients all tended to shun everyday activities, which lowered their quality of life. Participants in the study were chosen at random. Some received cognitive behavioral therapy during one-to-one sessions with a trained psychologist and others took part in group physiotherapy sessions.
At the end of the study, many of the patients and clinicians involved all felt that a combination of physiotherapy and talking therapies was the best treatment strategy. Since living with chronic pain, whether as a result of lower spinal issues or otherwise, is extremely difficult for all concerned, it makes sense to treat psychological distress as well as the physical symptoms.
The Link between Chronic Back Pain and Psychological Distress
One of the problems with chronic spinal problems is the pain factor. Over time patients become psychologically distressed because of the challenges they face when trying to find effective treatments. Back problems can be extremely disabling, and even if a suitable spinal stenosis treatment is found, this study indicates that a combination of psychological and physical treatment approach is more effective than focusing only on treating the physical symptoms of the condition.
Counselling is another form of psychological therapy that can also be used to treat patients suffering from chronic back pain. Trained counsellors can help patients find new ways to cope with chronic medical problems. Chronic illness can also have a big effect on a patient’s family and counselling sessions can provide much-needed support, helping them to cope with the situation.
The Benefits of Psychological Therapies
Not everyone is convinced of the merits of so-called talking therapy. Many people see this type of therapy as a waste of time, but devaluing the benefits offered by various talking therapies, in particular cognitive behavioral therapy, is underestimating the skill and commitment of trained psychotherapists and psychologists.
Other Treatment Options for Chronic Back Pain
There are many treatments for back pain. Physiotherapy, manual therapy such as manipulation carried out by osteopaths and chiropractors, and acupuncture can help, as can medication and a referral to a pain clinic. Self-help techniques include relaxation therapy such as yoga and meditation, eating a healthy diet containing anti-inflammatory foods, and trying to maintain a positive outlook on life by way of distraction techniques.
Living with chronic pain can cause a patient to restrict their physical movement in an attempt to minimize their pain. Over time, this can cause even more pain and, eventually, a negative state of mind. As with any chronic illness, there are always psychological factors at play when a patient has long-term back pain, so it makes sense to take a wider approach when devising an appropriate treatment plan. Treating the mind as well as the body is essential when dealing with patients suffering from chronic pain.