WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- People suffering with chronic lower back pain may want to turn to their psychologist for relief, a review of published studies suggests.
Researchers found psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavior therapy, can be effective in reducing back pain and improving patients' quality of life, depression and ability to work.
"This study provides quite compelling evidence of the effectiveness of these treatments," said lead author Robert Kerns, chief of the psychology service at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System.
The study will appear in the January 2007 issue of Health Psychology.
Kerns and colleagues used state-of-the-art analytic techniques to review 22 studies on psychological treatments and pain, which were published between 1982 and 2003. The study participants represented a broad array of people whose back pain generated from both known and unknown causes. The researchers excluded those with cancer from their analysis.
The study subjects had also experienced debilitating back pain for an average of seven years, and all had a history of trying multiple treatments in their quest for relief.
Kerns and team did not narrow their data search to one psychological approach. They included interventions a person would get in the psychologist's office, such as cognitive therapy; self-regulation, such as hypnosis, biofeedback -- using signals from the body to improve health -- and relaxation; and supportive counseling.
Self-regulation techniques and cognitive behavior therapy were the most beneficial in easing pain. Cognitive therapies could mean helping the patient manage their pain through exercise, managing their time or resting during the day.
But psychological treatments weren't limited to managing pain; Kerns was surprised to find the most robust gains came in eliminating the patients' pain intensity.
"Whereas 30 years ago we talked about these (psychological) interventions as learning to live with pain, we now have strong data that in fact these interventions are effective in reducing a person's experience of pain," Kerns said.