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Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help With Low Back Pain?

April 25, 2023

“Mind over matter” – or so the saying goes. But can our mind help us with one of the primary reasons why adults seek medical care – chronic back pain?

The answer may be yes, according to pain psychologist Mitchell Hernandez, PhD, who says that cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT for short) is the “gold standard treatment” for conditions like low back pain according to the American Association for the Study of Pain.

How does cognitive behavioral therapy – a treatment usually associated with psychology – help with back pain and the emotional side effects it can cause? Dr. Hernandez explains.

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Rethinking pain through CBT

CBT in pain management focuses on our perception of pain and how it impacts us on a number of levels.

“The goal is to reduce the frequency and severity of pain flare-ups. It helps patients regain control over their thinking patterns that may worsen their mood and create overwhelming stress in their lives,” she says.

CBT teaches that pain is a complex experience influenced by factors like your:

  • Thoughts
  • Emotions
  • Behaviors

> Related: Could Your Diet Be Causing Chronic Pain?

A wide range of strategies

There are a number of different CBT strategies that can be used for pain, says Dr. Hernandez.

One example is communication training, which can help you become a more confident advocate for your needs. It can also empower you to seek social, emotional and medical support for your pain.

“The key is helping people be aware of their thinking patterns and identify beliefs that may worsen their mood. Once you’ve identified those beliefs, you can evaluate their validity and usefulness and replace them with more realistic and positive ones,” she says.

Pain psychologists like Dr. Hernandez help patients understand that pain is a stressor requiring coping and adaptation. By identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors, you can learn to manage your pain more effectively and, in turn, improve your quality of life.