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A way forward without drugs: UW study focusing on lower back pain seeks volunteers

A new study will look at three back-pain treatments without relying on medication.
A new study will look at three back-pain treatments without relying on medication. TNS file, 2013

If you have lower back pain that never goes away, a new study researching drug-less treatment options is looking for you.

The Mechanisms of Psychosocial Treatments for Chronic Low Back Pain study will begin Feb. 23, and is looking for 300 adults to participate. Recruitment will continue over the next two years.

Results of the study eventually could help determine who might benefit from exercise-based therapy versus cognitive/mindfulness therapies, or a mix of both.

According to the study’s description: “While research has shown these treatments are helpful for people with chronic lower back pain, there is little research explaining why these treatments are helpful.

“The purpose of this study is to understand the specific ways these treatments work.”

The research was inspired by hearing clinicians argue at conferences over which treatments worked better for pain management, Mark Jensen, professor of rehabilitation at the University of Washington School of Medicine and lead investigating researcher in the study, said in UW’s blog.

The study will look at three treatments — one physically oriented and two involving mental approaches:

“Behavioral activation” treatment will promote activity and exercises.

Cognitive therapy will work to change how people think about their pain.

Mindfulness treatment will address what people do with those thoughts and how a person relates to them.

Jensen used a refrigerator metaphor to explain the difference between the two mental treatment approaches.

“If you have healthy content, you’re fine,” he said, “but if you have only cookies and ice cream and candy, you don’t have much choice. Most of us have a combination when it comes to our thoughts. Cognitive changes the content; mindfulness is what we do with our thoughts.”

To qualify for the study, you must be at least 18 and have a diagnosis of moderate to severe lower back pain on a regular basis.

Participants also must be able to read and understand English and have internet access along with a webcam and microphone.

Participation in the study will last about eight to nine months with remote treatment. In-person visits are not required.

For those accepted, the study will include:

Eight videoconferencing group treatment sessions, each lasting about 90 minutes.

Wearing an activity monitor daily for about 11 weeks.

Twice daily online surveys for about 10 weeks.

Telephone interviews before and after treatment.

To apply, call 206-221-7224 or toll-free at 800-570-5576 or online at