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Documentary Investigates the Placebo Effect on Back Pain

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola

Story at-a-glance -

  • Trials involving placebos for pain relief have shown the participant’s brains release natural opioids that provide opioid-mediated pain control
  • Dr. Michael Mosley devised a placebo trial for people with chronic back pain. After three weeks, 45 percent reported feeling significant improvement or complete pain relief
  • At the final follow-up at the end of Week 4, 70 percent of those who reported improvement at Week 3 and continued taking the pills continued to benefit — even though they knew they were taking a placebo
  • Complaints of lower back pain have risen dramatically in recent decades. Ranking 12th as a cause of disability in 1990, it’s now the leading cause of disability in nearly all high-income countries
  • In the U.S., more than 60 percent of people who see their physician for lower back pain are prescribed an opioid painkiller, but research shows placebo pills can offer significant relief for many patients struggling with long-term chronic back pain

Could relief for chronic back pain be as easy as taking a sugar pill? In the BBC documentary, “The Placebo Experiment: Can My Brain Cure My Body?” Dr. Michael Mosley sets out to investigate the power of the placebo effect.

Several studies have demonstrated complaints of lower back pain have risen dramatically in recent decades. Ranking 12th as a cause of disability in 1990, it’s now the leading cause of disability in nearly all high-income countries. As many as 8 in 10 adults will experience low back pain at some time in their life.


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