Could Retraining Your Brain Help Improve Your Pain?

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have lower back pain, are you one of them? Do you recognize these standard treatments: surgery, shots, medications, and spinal manipulations? But a new study suggests that a solution to the world’s leading cause of disability may lie in how the brain and the body communicate.

With the goal of upending existing treatments for chronic back pain, researchers across Australia, Europe, and the U.S. collaborated to test the effectiveness of shifting how neural networks detect pain in new research published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This randomized clinical trial includes two groups of 138 chronic low back pain sufferers. One group received the graded sensorimotor retraining intervention (RESOLVE) while the other received typical interventions such as mock laser therapy and noninvasive brain stimulation.

The researchers found that following RESOLVE’s 12-week training program, pain intensity significantly decreased at 18 weeks.

We observed a clinically meaningful effect on both pain intensity and disability in our trial. People reported being happier, their backs felt better, and their quality of life was better, said the study’s lead author, James McAure, PhD, in a statement. This is a revolutionary treatment for back pain.”

Writing about the brain:

As you endure chronic lower back pain, communication between your brain and your back changes and your brain alters how it interprets the signals coming from your back. As a result, you may move differently. Brain changes may lead to slower recovery and greater complication when dealing with pain. The Neuroscience Research Australia is an Australian research institute.

As time goes on, the back’s physical condition worsens, and the way the back and brain communicate gets interrupted in ways that seem to reaffirm the belief that the back is fragile and needs to be watched over, said McAuley, a professor at the University of New South Wales and a NeuRA senior research scientist. “Our treatment breaks this self-sustaining cycle.”

RESOLVE treatment improves this altered brain-back communication by slowly retraining the body and the brain without using opioid drugs or surgery. People who tried this said their quality of life improved one year later, according to McAuley.

They concluded that the pain improvement was modest, and the method needs to be tested on other patients and conditions. The NeuRA website reports that the new treatment is set to be introduced to doctors and physiotherapists within 6 to 9 months, and the company has already enlisted partner organizations to begin the process.

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