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Report endorses insurance coverage for yoga/meditation for back pain

Will the future of back pain treatment involve practices like yoga and meditation? A recent comprehensive report reviewing the current research and its impact brings us one step closer to that reality.

The report, sponsored by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) found that not only are yoga and meditation beneficial for relieving chronic low back pain, but that these practices are more cost effective than surgery or medication.

Low back pain is among the leading causes of disability worldwide, with the cost of treatment rapidly rising during the past 20 years. To curb the epidemic of opioid addiction, many physicians and patients are turning to mind-body therapies.

So far, however, many insurance companies refuse to cover treatment. To address this issue, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) convened a group of researchers to examine whether mind-body therapies might serve as an alternate approach to low back pain management, and warrant insurance reimbursement.

ICER is an independent, non-profit organization that evaluates medical research in collaboration with clinical experts, patients and stakeholders with the goal of informing patient care, improving outcomes, and controlling costs. The ICER report was reviewed in a public meeting, and approved by the California Technical Assessment Forum (CTAF) prior to its release.

Yoga and Mindfulness Offer Low-cost Alternative Back Pain Treatment

The report summarized a review of the evidence of the effectiveness of yoga and mindfulness-based approaches for treating chronic back pain for adults 18 years of age and older whose pain was not due to trauma, fracture, pregnancy, cancer, or progressive neurological problems. Effectiveness was defined by the treatment’s ability to improve function, reduce pain, depression and disability, and enhance quality of life.

The report noted that yoga and mindfulness-based therapies hold promise as alternative treatments for chronic low back pain. Perhaps their greatest benefits are derived from their cost- effectiveness compared to standard forms of treatment. This may allow those with little access to traditional forms of care, such as physical therapy, to seek and find pain relief.

The report also included several caveats. First, we have yet to understand whether a particular form of yoga, or mind-body therapy is most effective in remediating chronic low back pain.

Given the significant inconsistency in approaches among the different schools of yoga, and the limited number and quality of studies, additional research using highly skilled yoga therapists is needed to better understand best practices for yoga and mindfulness interventions for back pain.

Similarly, there is a great deal of variability in the causes of chronic low back pain. Some mind-body therapies may be particularly impactful for some subtypes of pain, whereas others may not. This has yet to be determined.

Importantly, the ICER report concluded that “the mind-body interventions evaluated in this assessment have no important harms.” This is great news for those seeking low-cost, non-pharmaceutical options for treating low back pain, and hopefully a stimulus for additional, high quality studies of yoga and mindfulness-based approaches for chronic pain, and for insurance providers to more extensively cover these services.

Originally published at YogaU Online


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