Back pain: Placebos definitely reduce pain

Back pain: Placebos definitely reduce pain

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Study examines the effects of placebos on chronic back pain
The use of placebos can appear to be very effective against pain. Researchers have now found that pain relief occurs even when patients are aware that it is a placebo.

The researchers at the ISPA Instituto Universitário in Lisbon found that, in pain, it makes no difference whether patients consciously take placebos. The positive effect for pain relief is still retained. The doctors published the results of their study in the journal "Pain".

Study: subjects consciously take placebos
The Portuguese researchers recruited 83 people with chronic back pain for their study. They explained to all participants that placebos are an inactive substance, which contain no medication and are comparable to a sugar pill. Then randomly selected patients received either normal pain medication or placebo treatment, the authors say. The pills were released in a prescription drug bottle labeled "placebo pills - take two tablets twice a day," the experts add.

Results in normally treated patients
At the beginning and end of the three-week study, the patients filled out questionnaires describing the intensity of the pain and the degree of disability caused by their pain. The normally treated group of subjects showed an average reduction of the usual pain by 9 percent, explain the doctors. In addition, a 16 percent reduction in maximum pain was observed in the patients in this group.

Results of the placebo-treated group
The placebo group showed an average reduction in normal and maximum pain of approximately 30 percent. Patients in this group also reported a 29 percent reduction in disabilities from existing back pain. The normally treated patients could not find such an effect, the scientists explain.

Mechanisms behind the effect are extremely complex
The author Cláudia Carvalho from the ISPA Instituto Universitário in Lisbon said that the underlying mechanism is extremely complex. This includes, for example, the sensitive and trusting relationship between the doctor and his patient and so-called medical rituals that are part of a therapeutic treatment. In addition, the positive expectation and the generation of hope to improve the pain is very important, adds the doctor. (as)

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