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The research team at the Center is headed to the International Forum for Back and Neck Pain Research in Primary Care

May 13, 2019

Researchers at the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing have had six abstracts accepted for presentation at the 2019 International Forum for Back and Neck Pain Research in Primary Care.

“I’m really excited to share our research,” says Roni Evans, DC, MS, PhD, the director of the Center's Integrative Health & Wellbeing Research Program, who contributed to all six of the accepted abstracts. “We are doing some really innovative work addressing how to help people to change their pain management behaviors. Specifically we are trying to get them to use healthier approaches like exercise and meditation, which have less risks than approaches like drugs and surgeries.”

The Forum is held about every 18 months in countries across the globe, and this year it will take place July 3 through 6 in Québec City, Canada. The Forum is committed to promoting research on spinal pain in primary and secondary care and to reducing the burden of this pain. It draws both newer and experienced researchers from around the world who study spinal and musculoskeletal pain.

This year’s Forum theme is “Back to the Future,” and will focus on innovations that can change the way back and neck pain are considered and treated and research is conducted.

“Our studies focused on pain management behaviors are a really different approach to what is normally done--I’ve been studying pain for about 25 years, so it’s fun to be thinking outside the box,” says Evans.

Two of the studies that the Center is working on are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). One explores how chiropractors and physical therapists can help back pain patients take better care of their pain on their own by helping them address different aspects of their wellbeing affected by their pain. The other study is developing accessible and affordable mindfulness programs for veterans.

“In both of these studies we’ve incorporated behavioral models that target what people with pain really need from a ‘whole person’ perspective--and these models haven’t been used extensively in the back and neck pain field so this is what makes them innovative” says Evans.

The Center’s research team truly brings together a talented and multi-faceted group to address the complex issue of pain.

“The team brings together expertise in areas such as study and intervention design and data analysis, but also diverse experiences such as mindfulness teaching and clinical practice,” says Douglas Kennedy, PhD, who worked on one of the six accepted abstracts. “As a newcomer to the team last year, I was really struck by the cohesiveness of the team and how readily people would jump in to support each other with different parts of the project.”

The research team has also worked to understand the needs of those they are trying to help by conducting focus groups.

“Learning about their particular challenges, preferences, and perspectives is so interesting from a design standpoint and connects our work to the populations we ultimately want to help with our research,” says Kennedy. “I find this part of the work inspiring and invigorating; it's challenging but in the best possible sense.”

Alex Haley, JD, MBA, worked on two of the abstracts that were accepted, and says he is most excited about the one that takes an innovative approach to making mindfulness accessible to veterans.

“The treatment for veterans with pain involves key mind-body skills training rather than relying only on a pharmacological approach,” says Haley.

Brent Leininger, DC, MS, worked on three of the accepted abstracts, and he is excited about research that examines the value of non-pharmacologic treatments—such as spinal manipulation, exercise, and self-management—for back and neck conditions.

“These are especially important topics in the U.S. given the rising healthcare costs and current opioid crisis where back and neck problems play a large role,” he says.

Craig Schulz, DC, MS, who worked on two of the accepted abstracts as well, says his research found that the idea of empowering patients to manage their own pain through lifestyle choices seems to have made a big impact in patient outcomes, whether or not it is coupled with rehabilitative exercise of spinal manipulation. This highlights the importance of an integrative approach.

“Complementary integrative approaches can bridge, or in some cases merge, qualities from different approaches,” says Schulz. “This is likely occurring in many treatments, we now are interested in looking more closely at what these additional components provide in integrative therapy.”

“As a research team, we all know why we do what we do, and that is to identify-- using the best science possible-- the most affordable and effective treatments to relieve pain and suffering and support wellbeing,” adds Evans.

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The Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing blog covers a range of integrative health and wellbeing topics. For more information about our blog, contact us at csh@umn.edu