Chronic low back pain (cLBP) is the most prevalent chronic pain condition. There are no treatments that haven been found to directly assuage evoked cLBP. To this extent, mindfulness-meditation is a promising pain therapy. Yet, it is unclear if meditation can be utilized to directly attenuate evoked chronic pain through endogenous opioids. A double-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled clinical trial with a drug crossover design examined if mindfulness-meditation, as compared to sham mindfulness-meditation, attenuated straight leg-raise test evoked chronic pain during intravenous (0.15 mg/kg bolus + 0.15 mg/kg/hour maintenance) naloxone (opioid antagonist) and placebo-saline infusion. Fifty-nine individuals with cLBP (mean age = 46 years; 30 females) completed all study procedures. After the pre-intervention pain testing session, patients were randomized to a four-session (20-min/session) mindfulness (n = 30) or sham mindfulness-meditation (n = 29) intervention. After the interventions, mindfulness and sham mindfulness-meditation were associated with significant reductions in back pain during saline and naloxone infusion when compared to rest (non-meditation) in response to the cLBP-evoking straight leg-raise test. These results indicate that meditation directly reduces evoked chronic pain through non-opioidergic processes. Importantly, after the interventions, the mindfulness group reported significantly lower straight leg-raise induced pain than the sham mindfulness-meditation group during rest (non-meditation) and meditation. Mindfulness and sham mindfulness-meditation training was also associated with significantly lower Brief Pain Inventory severity and interference scores. The pain-relieving effects of mindfulness meditation were more pronounced than a robust sham-mindfulness meditation intervention, suggesting that non-reactive appraisal processes may be uniquely associated with improvements in chronic low-back pain.
Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT04034004
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This work was supported by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (Zeidan R21-AT010352, R01-AT009693, R00-AT008238) and the UC San Diego Denny T. Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Khatib, L., Dean, J.G., Oliva, V. et al. The role of endogenous opioids in mindfulness and sham mindfulness-meditation for the direct alleviation of evoked chronic low back pain: a randomized clinical trial. Neuropsychopharmacol. (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-023-01766-2