Known Placebos Ease Chronic Pain
The "placebo effect" is a well-known psychological occurrence in which an inactive or ineffective medical treatment produces beneficial results when the person receiving the treatment believes it to be active/effective. A recent study showed that people with chronic back pain who took a placebo—knowingly—along with standard treatment experienced greater pain relief than people receiving standard treatment alone.
Placebos or "dummy pills" are used in certain clinical trials to help test active medications. They can affect symptoms when the person believes and expects they will work. However, according to this new study, it may not be the power of positive thinking that makes placebos work, but the "ritual" of a treatment program.
The study involved 97 people with lower back pain—most (about 85 percent) of whom were taking pain medication. Participants were divided into two groups for the 3-week study. One group continued with their current treatment and the other continued with treatment but also took a placebo pill from a clearly marked bottle twice a day. Interestingly, the group who continued treatment as usual reported a 9 percent reduction in overall pain and a 16 percent reduction in maximum pain, but the placebo group reported a 30 percent reduction in overall and maximum pain and a 29 percent reduction in pain-related disability.
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