The Role of the Brain in Chronic Back Pain Management: Insights from a Recent Study

by Henrik Andersen
Chronic Back Pain Management

A newly conducted study suggests that chronic back pain may be better understood and treated by considering it as a brain-centric process through pain reprocessing therapy, significantly alleviating pain intensity. This method alters how pain is perceived, underscoring the importance of integrating the brain’s function in managing chronic pain.

A notable two-thirds of the study’s participants reported minimal or no pain following their association of pain with mental or cerebral processes during recovery.

Published in JAMA Network Open, the research delves into the vital connection between the brain and pain management in chronic conditions, focusing on how pain attributions – individuals’ beliefs about the origins of their pain – play a role in lessening chronic back pain.

The Crucial Link Between Brain and Pain: A New Approach to Treatment

Yoni Ashar, PhD, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, emphasized the need for a new approach in diagnosing and treating chronic pain, which affects millions globally. The research team explored the impact of reattributing pain to mental or cerebral processes using pain reprocessing therapy (PRT). PRT aims to teach individuals to interpret pain signals received by the brain as less menacing. Post-PRT, patients reported a decrease in back pain severity.

Ashar highlighted the importance of discussing pain attributions with patients and enlightening them that pain often originates in the brain, which can aid in its reduction.

Redefining Pain Perceptions for Improved Management

In the study, over 150 adults with moderate to severe chronic back pain participated in a randomized trial for PRT. The findings showed that two-thirds of those treated with PRT experienced little or no pain post-treatment, in contrast to only 20% in the placebo group.

Ashar pointed out the critical nature of the study, as many patients’ perceptions of their pain are often misaligned, with few acknowledging the brain’s involvement. This misconception can negatively influence treatment decisions. Before PRT, only 10% of participants related their pain to mind or brain factors. This figure rose to 51% post-PRT, with a corresponding greater decrease in chronic back pain intensity as participants increasingly attributed their pain to these factors.

Ashar emphasized that understanding pain as a brain process helps patients realize that their physical body is not at fault and that the pain is a ‘false alarm’ from the brain, reducing fear and anxiety associated with it.

Promoting New Conversations in Pain Management

The researchers aim for this study to prompt healthcare providers to discuss with patients the underlying causes of their pain, moving beyond solely biomedical reasons.

Ashar noted that patient discussions typically revolve around biomedical causes, with the brain’s role being seldom addressed. This research advocates for exploring diverse treatments, including those targeting the brain’s influence on chronic pain.

Reference: “Reattribution to Mind-Brain Processes and Recovery From Chronic Back Pain: A Secondary Analysis of a Randomized Clinical Trial” by Yoni K. Ashar, Mark A. Lumley, Roy H. Perlis, Conor Liston, Faith M. Gunning and Tor D. Wager, 28 September 2023, JAMA Network Open.
DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.33846

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Chronic Back Pain Management

What is the main focus of the recent study on chronic back pain?

The study focuses on understanding chronic back pain as a brain-related process, using pain reprocessing therapy to significantly reduce pain severity. It examines the role of pain attributions and how altering perceptions about pain can lead to more effective pain management.

How does pain reprocessing therapy (PRT) help in managing chronic back pain?

PRT helps by teaching patients to perceive pain signals sent to the brain as less threatening. It involves reattributing pain to mental or brain processes, which has been associated with significant pain relief in patients with chronic back pain.

What were the key findings of the study published in JAMA Network Open?

The study found that two-thirds of participants who underwent PRT reported being pain-free or experiencing minimal pain after treatment. This compares to only 20% in placebo controls. It highlights the importance of considering the brain’s role in pain perception and management.

How does changing perceptions about pain affect its management?

Changing perceptions about pain, specifically understanding it as a brain process, helps patients realize that their physical body might not be at fault and that the pain could be a ‘false alarm’ generated by the brain. This shift in perspective can lead to a significant reduction in the intensity of chronic back pain.

What is the importance of this study for healthcare providers and patients?

This study encourages healthcare providers to engage in discussions with patients about the reasons behind their pain, including non-biomedical causes. It suggests that addressing the brain’s role in chronic pain can open up new avenues for treatment and provide substantial relief for patients suffering from chronic back pain.

More about Chronic Back Pain Management

  • Understanding Chronic Back Pain and the Brain
  • Pain Reprocessing Therapy Explained
  • Key Findings from the JAMA Network Open Study
  • The Brain-Pain Connection in Chronic Pain Management
  • Shifting Perceptions in Pain Treatment Strategies
  • The Role of Pain Attributions in Chronic Back Pain
  • Chronic Back Pain: New Approaches to Treatment and Relief

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Emily Wilson November 28, 2023 - 4:59 pm

My aunt tried something like this for her migraines, said it was life-changing! This study could really be onto something, hope more people find out about it.

Jane Doe November 28, 2023 - 10:18 pm

i think the idea of treating back pain by focusing on the brain is really innovative! It’s like a whole new perspective, isn’t it?

Mike Smith November 28, 2023 - 10:52 pm

not sure about this, sounds a bit too good to be true? How can just changing how you think about pain actually reduce it. Seems a bit far fetched.

Sara Johnson November 29, 2023 - 6:10 am

Wow this is fascinating! I’ve suffered from chronic back pain for years, never thought the brain could be so central to managing it. Definitely gonna read more about this.

Tom Brown November 29, 2023 - 10:42 am

is there any info on side effects? I mean, it sounds great but always a bit wary about new treatments. You never know right.


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