Placebo Effect and Back Pain


Placebo is a Latin word that means: “I shall please”.  When it comes to chronic pain, the placebo effect is a treatment that produces a positive anatomical response, even though it has no real therapeutic value. The placebo effect is 100% real and has been proven to exist thousands of times in medical research.

The placebo effect works by convincing the mind that the treatment has actual efficacy. The mind believes in the treatment and manipulates the physical body, enacting positive health benefits.  The key to the placebo effect is the patient's faith in the legitimacy of the treatment. Any treatment can cause a placebo effect, including back surgery.

Let's examine why this psychological programming factor is such a large part of the back pain treatment sector of medical science and how removal of the effect would decimate the effectiveness of many healing arts.

Placebo Effect Defined and Explained

The placebo effect is sometimes called the sugar pill, due to the vast number of drug studies that have compared an actual pharmaceutical product to a common non-therapeutic substance, such as sugar.  The sugar pill is sometimes used as a control group to determine useful effects of an actual product under clinical study. The patient does not know whether they are receiving the actual product or a placebo, providing a comparative analysis of the actual efficacy of both therapeutic modalities.

Study outcomes often demonstrate  that patients who believe in the proposed treatment will usually show good results regardless of which group they are placed into.

The placebo effect solidifies mindbody theory into fact. After all, it would be completely impossible for the phenomenon to occur if the mind could not produce powerful positive effects in the body.

Similarly, the nocebo effect would be likewise impossible if the mind could not also produce negative consequences in the physical body.

Effective Placebo and Back Pain Therapy

Any back pain treatment can act as a placebo. In fact, if it were not for this psychological effect, many therapy options would enjoy no efficacy at all.

Remember, many treatments target mistakenly identified anatomical targets which are suspected of sourcing pain, but are really quite innocent and asymptomatic. When the patient enjoys any relief from these types of care, the placebo is surely to blame.

Doctors should thank this programmed response every day, since it keeps many of them in business!  One of the most fascinating of all of these treatments is certainly the back surgery placebo.

I had a psychoemotional dependency on chiropractic treatment for my chronic back pain for 18 years. The treatments never did anything to cure my pain condition, but somehow I felt that they were keeping my back from getting worse.

Of course, the reality was that I was having a placebo effect from each spinal adjustment. The effect would keep my mind satisfied that I was doing something good for my back and therefore I thought it was helping me.

Placebos can be helpful in the short-term for symptomatic relief. They are harmful in the long-term, since the back ache will continue forever or until a real cure is found and implemented.

Experiences with the Placebo Effect

I have heard some pretty crazy placebo effects reported by back pain patients. I am always happy when a patient achieves some measure of relief, but I can’t help but fear that the pain might return in some back pain substitute condition.  Therefore, I caution many that their positive results might not be permanent, if they were likely enacted by the placebo effect, which unfortunately describes the reality of many chronically suffering patients in extended care regimens.

Remember that any treatment can function as a placebo.

Looking back on my own pain, I recall many behaviors and therapies that seemed to help my pain. Now I know that these were simply perceptions with no basis in reality.  Hindsight is 20/20, but living in the moment, it is almost impossible to differentiate between a perceived cure and the real deal. That is until the pain returns. Then, the difference is crystal clear.

If you enjoy the topic of mindbody medicine and want to know more about how the mind can influence the body for good or ill, I recommend that you continue to research the subject in detail.  There are many articles on The Cure Back Pain Network devoted to the interactions of the mind and body and I am sure these will give you a fantastic primer on true holistic health.

Back Pain > Alternative Medicine for Back Pain > Placebo