Suffering from chronic back pain? Researchers say a brain-based treatment could be effective in reducing its severity.

People experience pain for various reasons, but there are instances wherein some experience physical pain without any definite cause. In such cases, managing one's perspective about the brain's role in chronic pain could help them deal with it better.

A new study, published in JAMA Network Open, showed that people with chronic back pain who underwent a treatment called pain reprocessing therapy (PRT) started seeing their pain as stemming from their mind (thoughts) or brain (body). The participants felt a reduction in the intensity of the pain after the therapy session.

All pain originates from neural circuits in the brain. Therefore, having a better understanding of this intricate mind-body connection can be vital in effectively managing and reducing its intensity.

In the latest study, researchers examined the critical link between the brain and pain. Their focus was specifically on pain attributions, which represent people's beliefs about the root causes of their pain. Using PRT, the team tried to make people understand that the cause of their chronic pain is often in the brain or mind.

A total of 150 adults with moderately severe chronic back pain participated in the study. They were randomly assigned into three groups that received PRT, an inactive placebo injection or usual care.

Participants reported a significant reduction in the intensity of their back pain after receiving PRT. Two-thirds of the participants who underwent PRT were nearly or completely pain-free after just four weeks, compared to fewer than one-fifth of those who received a placebo or standard care.

At the beginning of the study, only 10% of participants across all three groups attributed the causes of their pain to the mind or brain. This figure rose to 51% in people who underwent PRT by the end of the treatment period, while only 8% of participants in the placebo and usual care groups held similar beliefs after four weeks.

Researchers found that the more participants shifted their perspective to recognize the mind/brain factor, the lesser the intensity of their back pain became. The findings shed light on the effectiveness of PRT in reshaping beliefs and reducing the severity of chronic back pain.

"Millions of people are experiencing chronic pain and many haven't found ways to help with the pain, making it clear that something is missing in the way we're diagnosing and treating people," study first author Yoni Ashar, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, said in a news release.

"We found that very few people believed their brains had anything to do with their pain," he added. "This can be unhelpful and hurtful when it comes to planning for recovery, since pain attributions guide major treatment decisions, such as whether to get surgery or psychological treatment."

Ashar underlines PRT's role in helping people understand their pain signals are essentially "false alarms" that they don't need to be afraid of.

"The take-home message [from this study] for people with chronic pain is that because pain is processed in the brain and these networks are not hardwired, there are things they can do to help reset some of these networks and reduce the experience of pain," Afton L. Hassett, associate professor and director of clinical pain research in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan, told Healthline.

People dealing with chronic pain often find themselves trapped in an endless cycle: Pain serves as a catalyst for fear, triggering a heightened state of alertness in the brain. This heightened state can intensify the pain even more, further fueling their fear, and the cycle continues.

"Pain is processed in the brain using many of the same structures and networks as those used for processing thoughts and emotions. That's why when we feel frightened or sad, our pain can feel much worse," said Hassett, who was not part of the study.

However, the opposite holds true as well: Positive thoughts and emotions have the potential to reduce the feelings of chronic pain.

"If you have pain and find yourself laughing with a friend or deeply engaged in doing something you love, you might not notice or even feel your pain," added Hassett.