Introduction: Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) reduces depression, anxiety, and pain for people suffering from a variety of illnesses, and there is a growing need to understand the neurobiological networks implicated in self-reported psychological change as a result of training. Combining complementary and alternative treatments such as MBSR with other therapies is helpful; however, the time commitment of the traditional 8-week course may impede accessibility. This pilot study aimed to (1) determine if an abbreviated MBSR course improves symptoms in chronic back pain patients and (2) examine the neural and behavioral correlates of MBSR treatment.
Methods: Participants were assigned to 4 weeks of weekly MBSR training (n = 12) or a control group (stress reduction reading; n = 11). Self-report ratings and task-based functional MRI were obtained prior to, and after, MBSR training, or at a yoked time point in the control group.
Results: While both groups showed significant improvement in total depression symptoms, only the MBSR group significantly improved in back pain and somatic-affective depression symptoms. The MBSR group also uniquely showed significant increases in regional frontal lobe hemodynamic activity associated with gaining awareness to changes in one's emotional state.
Conclusions: An abbreviated MBSR course may be an effective complementary intervention that specifically improves back pain symptoms and frontal lobe regulation of emotional awareness, while the traditional 8-week course may be necessary to detect unique improvements in total anxiety and cognitive aspects of depression.
Keywords: Anxiety; back pain; depression; frontal lobe; functional magnetic resonance imaging; mindfulness; stress.