Study dives deep into lower back pain treatments


December 13, 2018

Study dives deep into lower back pain treatments

Researchers will study three popular pain-relief therapies to learn what works best and for whom.

Science does not yet tell us why various therapies for low back pain benefit some individuals but not others.  A researcher at the University of Washington School of Medicine reasons that if we could understand why some patients benefit from certain therapies, we’d be closer to personalizing treatments for individuals.

Mark Jensen, UW professor of rehabilitation medicine, related that his current research pursuit was inspired by overhearing clinicians argue at conferences about which therapy is better for managing pain. 

“We know with certainty that people can hurt less and do more after these treatments. And while the improvement can be life-changing for the better, it is not always so,” he said. “So rather than try to develop one more new treatment, we’re going to look under the hood of existing treatments to try to get a better idea of what makes them work.”

[Download soundbites of Jensen discussing this study.]

In a study Jensen is conducting with Melissa Day at the University of Queensland in Australia, people with low back pain will receive one of three treatments. They’ll wear body monitors and answer questions twice a day about how they are feeling and progressing.

The three treatments:

  • Behavioral activation: encouraging activity and exercises to strengthen the back
  • Cognitive therapy: changing how people think about their pain
  • Mindfulness: changing what people do with those thoughts

By the end of it, Jensen and Day hope they'll have significant data about what sorts of people benefit from which treatments, and why.

“Maybe one of the mechanisms is more effective than the others at producing increases in function and decreases in pain. This is all about understanding what these three treatments do and how they influence each other,” Jensen said. 

For more information

Researchers are recruiting people with lower back pain to be in this study. For participation criteria and other details, visit this site or email Treatments will be conducted via web conferencing.

Walter Neary, 253.389.0736,

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