University to use $11.2 million grant to research back pain

The study aims to find non-drug treatments for lower back pain.

by Sally Samaha

A University of Minnesota health center was awarded the first phase of an $11.2 million grant last month to study non-drug approaches to prevent chronic back pain. 

Researchers at the University’s Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing will use the multi-million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a study aiming to reduce the number of patients whose acute lower back pain episodes become chronic issues.

“Chronic back pain is considered a leading cause of disability worldwide. It’s a very common problem,” said Gert Bronfort, the lead investigator and professor at the University’s Integrative Health and Wellbeing Research Program.  

The study, called Spinal Manipulation and Patient Self-Management for Preventing Acute to Chronic Back Pain Trial, was proposed by the NIH, who is closely monitoring it. 

The five year study will involve about 1,200 adult patients who will be evaluated at the University and the University of Pittsburgh, Bronfort said. 

In addition to reducing the number of people with chronic back pain issues, researchers hope to cut down the use of opioids for back pain and the need for surgery. 

As many as half of patients with back pain are prescribed opioids control their pain, Bronfort said.

“I truly see the patients every day in the pre-op clinic who are having maybe their 13th back surgery, and it can be an incredibly destructive process,” said Joyce Wahr, vice chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University. “Anything we can do to prevent patients from getting on that pathway will just be of huge benefit.”

The PACBACK study will be one of the first to consider non-drug therapies, such as supportive self-management — like emotional and mental support — and spinal manipulation for the prevention of chronic pain, said Roni Evans, study co-investigator and research director of the Integrative Health and Wellbeing Research Program.

Researchers are in the planning phase of the study and will begin recruiting patients in the spring of 2018.