How does the placebo effect back pain?
People suffering from chronic back pain will often turn to medication to help ease the pain. A recent study, researchers recruited 97 adult patients with low back pain lasting at least 3 months. Patients were randomly assigned to 3 weeks of treatment on their usual pain medications alone, or on their usual medications plus placebo. Importantly, patients knew they were taking a placebo. The researchers explained to patients about the “potentially powerful” placebo effect, and how the body may automatically respond to placebo treatments. Measures of back pain and disability were compared between groups. 83 patients completed the study. Researchers found greater reductions in pain for patients assigned to placebo. On a 0-to-10 scale, patients in the placebo group had a 1.5-point improvement in pain score, compared to no significant change for patients taking usual medications only. Overall, open placebo treatment reduced initial pain and disability scores by approximately 30%. Patients in the usual-treatment group had similar improvements after they started taking placebo pills. Researchers suggest that open-label placebo can be a safe and effective adjunct to treatment for chronic low back pain. Patients have better improvement when placebo is added to pain medications.
How does this happen? Well one theory would suggest that our minds have a greater impact on controlling pain impulses than just medications. Being aware of the environment and mental factors that may contribute to the triggering of chronic back pain may help some people manage it better, along with addressing the functional deficiencies that may be causing the back pain.