PainSci notes on Cherkin 2016:
This was a trial with 340 patients, so they had over a hundred patients in each experimental group: usual care, mindfulness-based stress reduction (“meditation,” basically), and cognitive behavioural therapy. They measured disability and pain, and “the percentage of participants with clinically meaningful improvement in pain bothersomeness at 26 weeks was 43.6% in the MBSR group and 44.9% in the CBT group, vs 26.6% in the usual care group.” So it was a tie between meditation and CBT, both of them producing substantially more relief than the control group’s “usual care.”
Although clearly a positive result on its face, I simply do not trust it: Daniel Cherkin is an acupuncture booster, the researcher notoriously behind one of the most misleading acupuncture papers ever published (see Cherkin). This particularly glaring bias undermines the credibility of all his papers substantially. It doesn’t mean that this data is bad … but I also wouldn’t want it to be my main citation for “meditation/CBT works for back pain.” There are many ways for research to be seriously but non-obviously flawed, and I would bet good money that this paper has such flaws.
It also stands alone. As of mid-2022, there are no comparable studies that have replicated these results.
Common issues and characteristics relevant to this paper: ?Scientific papers have many common characteristics, flaws, and limitations, and many of these are rarely or never acknowledged in the paper itself, or even by other reviewers. I have reviewed thousands of papers, and described many of these issues literally hundreds of times. Eventually I got sick of repeating myself, and so now I just refer to a list common characteristics, especially flaws. Not every single one of them applies perfectly to every paper, but if something is listed here, it is relevant in some way. Note that in the case of reviews, the issue may apply to the science being reviewed, and not the review itself.
- A high and/or unacknowledged risk of bias and its consequences (p-hacking, etc).
original abstract †Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.
IMPORTANCE: Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has not been rigorously evaluated for young and middle-aged adults with chronic low back pain.
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the effectiveness for chronic low back pain of MBSR vs cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or usual care.
DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Randomized, interviewer-blind, clinical trial in an integrated health care system in Washington State of 342 adults aged 20 to 70 years with chronic low back pain enrolled between September 2012 and April 2014 and randomly assigned to receive MBSR (n = 116), CBT (n = 113), or usual care (n = 113).
INTERVENTIONS: CBT (training to change pain-related thoughts and behaviors) and MBSR (training in mindfulness meditation and yoga) were delivered in 8 weekly 2-hour groups. Usual care included whatever care participants received.
MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Coprimary outcomes were the percentages of participants with clinically meaningful (≥30%) improvement from baseline in functional limitations (modified Roland Disability Questionnaire [RDQ]; range, 0-23) and in self-reported back pain bothersomeness (scale, 0-10) at 26 weeks. Outcomes were also assessed at 4, 8, and 52 weeks.
RESULTS: There were 342 randomized participants, the mean (SD) [range] age was 49.3 (12.3) [20-70] years, 224 (65.7%) were women, mean duration of back pain was 7.3 years (range, 3 months-50 years), 123 (53.7%) attended 6 or more of the 8 sessions, 294 (86.0%) completed the study at 26 weeks, and 290 (84.8%) completed the study at 52 weeks. In intent-to-treat analyses at 26 weeks, the percentage of participants with clinically meaningful improvement on the RDQ was higher for those who received MBSR (60.5%) and CBT (57.7%) than for usual care (44.1%) (overall P = .04; relative risk [RR] for MBSR vs usual care, 1.37 [95% CI, 1.06-1.77]; RR for MBSR vs CBT, 0.95 [95% CI, 0.77-1.18]; and RR for CBT vs usual care, 1.31 [95% CI, 1.01-1.69]). The percentage of participants with clinically meaningful improvement in pain bothersomeness at 26 weeks was 43.6% in the MBSR group and 44.9% in the CBT group, vs 26.6% in the usual care group (overall P = .01; RR for MBSR vs usual care, 1.64 [95% CI, 1.15-2.34]; RR for MBSR vs CBT, 1.03 [95% CI, 0.78-1.36]; and RR for CBT vs usual care, 1.69 [95% CI, 1.18-2.41]). Findings for MBSR persisted with little change at 52 weeks for both primary outcomes.
CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Among adults with chronic low back pain, treatment with MBSR or CBT, compared with usual care, resulted in greater improvement in back pain and functional limitations at 26 weeks, with no significant differences in outcomes between MBSR and CBT. These findings suggest that MBSR may be an effective treatment option for patients with chronic low back pain.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT01467843.
- “Effect of Pain Reprocessing Therapy vs Placebo and Usual Care for Patients With Chronic Back Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” Yoni K Ashar, Alan Gordon, Howard Schubiner, Christie Uipi, Karen Knight, Zachary Anderson, Judith Carlisle, Laurie Polisky, Stephan Geuter, Thomas F Flood, Philip A Kragel, Sona Dimidjian, Mark A Lumley, and Tor D Wager, JAMA Psychiatry, 2022.
This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights:
- Association of Lumbar MRI Findings with Current and Future Back Pain in a Population-based Cohort Study. Kasch 2022 Spine (Phila Pa 1976).
- A double-blinded randomised controlled study of the value of sequential intravenous and oral magnesium therapy in patients with chronic low back pain with a neuropathic component. Yousef 2013 Anaesthesia.
- Is Neck Posture Subgroup in Late Adolescence a Risk Factor for Persistent Neck Pain in Young Adults? A Prospective Study. Richards 2021 Phys Ther.
- Sudden amnesia resulting in pain relief: the relationship between memory and pain. Choi 2007 Pain.
- Photobiomodulation therapy is not better than placebo in patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Guimarães 2021 Pain.