Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Treating Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Ann Intern Med. 2017 Jun 6;166(11):799-807. doi: 10.7326/M16-1997. Epub 2017 Apr 25.


Background: Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is frequently used to treat pain-related conditions, but its effects on low back pain are uncertain.

Purpose: To assess the efficacy and safety of MBSR in patients with low back pain.

Data sources: Searches of MEDLINE/PubMed, Scopus, the Cochrane Library, and PsycINFO to 15 June 2016.

Study selection: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that compared MBSR with usual care or an active comparator and assessed pain intensity or pain-related disability as a primary outcome in patients with low back pain.

Data extraction: Two reviewers independently extracted data on study characteristics, patients, interventions, outcome measures, and results at short- and long-term follow-up. Risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool.

Data synthesis: Seven RCTs involving 864 patients with low back pain were eligible for review. Compared with usual care, MBSR was associated with short-term improvements in pain intensity (4 RCTs; mean difference [MD], -0.96 point on a numerical rating scale [95% CI, -1.64 to -0.34 point]; standardized mean difference [SMD], -0.48 point [CI, -0.82 to -0.14 point]) and physical functioning (2 RCTs; MD, 2.50 [CI, 0.90 to 4.10 point]; SMD, 0.25 [CI, 0.09 to 0.41 point]) that were not sustained in the long term. Between-group differences in disability, mental health, pain acceptance, and mindfulness were not significant at short- or long-term follow-up. Compared with an active comparator, MBSR was not associated with significant differences in short- or long-term outcomes. No serious adverse events were reported.

Limitation: The number of eligible RCTs was limited; only 3 evaluated MBSR against an active comparator.

Conclusion: Mindfulness-based stress reduction may be associated with short-term effects on pain intensity and physical functioning. Long-term RCTs that compare MBSR versus active treatments are needed in order to best understand the role of MBSR in the management of low back pain.

Primary funding source: None.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / psychology*
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Mindfulness*
  • Patient Compliance
  • Quality of Life
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*