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What The Latest Study on Chronic Back Pain Means For You

This interview is from the Like Mind, Like Body podcast. You can listen to the full interview below, on iTunes or Google Podcasts.


What’s more effective at treating chronic back pain: the usual standard of care, a placebo, or psychotherapy? That’s the question Yoni Ashar, PhD, sought to answer in his latest randomized clinical trial.

Join us as Dr. Ashar talks through the results of his study and breaks down what it all means for people in pain.

About Yoni Ashar, PhD

Yoni is a clinical psychologist, neuroscientist, and father of three. He is an NIH-funded postdoctoral associate at Weill Cornell Medicine, and he completed his doctorate at the University of Colorado Boulder. He conducted the first randomized trial testing Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT).

Yoni's research in chronic pain has been featured in several news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Vox, and the Coloradan. You can see more of his work on Twitter and Google Scholar.

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What is Pain Reprocessing Therapy? What actually happened in those magical sessions to achieve these almost never seen before results?

The central aim of PRT is to help patients re-conceptualize their pain as a false alarm of danger. Meaning, while the pain is totally real, there really is no injury. There is no danger or damage, and there is nothing to be afraid of.

It aims to help patients drop this fear around the pain by understanding that it is a product of neural plasticity - totally harmless changes in the brain pathways.

So we measured people’s fear of pain and their pain attributions. We found that people who had the largest drops in injury beliefs (the belief that the pain indicates an injury) had the largest drops in pain.

We also asked them what they believed to be the causes of their pain, in their own words. We had people tell us things before treatment like, “My pain was caused by an accident 20 years ago”, “My pain is caused by disk degeneration, or stenosis”, “Years of heavy labor.” These were the standard attributions of what people believed to be the cause of their pain at pre-treatment.

At post-treatment, PRT participants were telling us, “The pain is due to stress”, “The pain is due to fear”, “It’s due to neural pathways.” And again the people who had the largest changes in their pain attributions also had the largest drops in pain.

[this is an excerpt only - for the full episode, listen to the podcast above]

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