Project Summary

PCORI has identified opioid use for chronic pain as an important research topic. Patients, clinicians, and others want to learn: How can patients lower their use of opioid medications while managing chronic pain, or eliminate use of these drugs altogether? To help answer this question, PCORI launched a funding initiative in 2016 on Clinical Strategies for Managing and Reducing Long Term Opioid Use for Chronic Pain. This research project is one of the studies PCORI awarded as part of this program.

This research project is in progress. PCORI will post the research findings on this page within 90 days after the results are final.

What is the research about?

One in four US adults have chronic low back pain, which is defined as any type of pain in the low back or radiating down to the legs (sciatica) that lasts for three or more months. Chronic low back pain can make it difficult to do daily activities such as walking, sitting, or climbing stairs. Doctors often cannot cure chronic low back pain, but they may prescribe an opioid medicine to help patients manage their pain. These medicines can have serious side effects, such as addiction to the medicine, depression, or even death from accidental overdose. Because of these side effects, patients, families, and doctors want to learn about other ways patients can safely manage chronic low back pain and reduce or eliminate the use of opioid medicines.

This study compares two ways to help patients reduce chronic low back pain and improve their quality of life:

  • Mindfulness meditation helps people train their minds to focus attention in a certain way to cope with and reduce negative reactions to pain.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of psychological therapy, helps people learn how to change their thoughts and feelings about pain and develop new ways to think and act when they are in pain.

Who can this research help?

This research can help people who have chronic low back pain, their families, and their doctors make choices about how to treat chronic low back pain.

What is the research team doing?

The research team is recruiting 766 people with chronic low back pain who currently are taking an opioid medicine.

The researchers are assigning participants by chance to one of two groups. The first group receives training in mindfulness meditation. The second group receives training in cognitive behavioral therapy. Participants learn these techniques during two-hour weekly group sessions for eight weeks and practice the techniques at home.

The research team is following people in both groups for a year to see which group reports less pain; better ability to perform basic functions such as walking, climbing stairs, and being physically active; better quality of life; and taking less opioid medicine. Researchers also are interviewing people in the study to learn more about how the treatments affect their chronic low back pain.

The research team includes patients with chronic low back pain, their family members, clinicians, and researchers. Patients on the research team are helping the researchers decide what to ask the study participants about their experiences.

Research methods at a glance

Design Element Description
Study Design Randomized controlled trial
Population Adults with chronic low back pain who take a daily opioid medicine
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

Primary: reduced pain levels and increased function

Secondary: improved quality of life, reduced reliance on opioid medicine

Timeframe Timeframe Length of follow-up for collecting data on primary outcomes. View Glossary 12-month follow-up for primary outcome

Project Information

Bruce Barrett
University of Wisconsin-Madison
A Comparative Effectiveness Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation versus Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Opioid-Treated Chronic Low Back Pain

Key Dates

July 2016
March 2024

Study Registration Information


Award Type
Health Conditions Health Conditions These are the broad terms we use to categorize our funded research studies; specific diseases or conditions are included within the appropriate larger category. Note: not all of our funded projects focus on a single disease or condition; some touch on multiple diseases or conditions, research methods, or broader health system interventions. Such projects won’t be listed by a primary disease/condition and so won’t appear if you use this filter tool to find them. View Glossary
Populations Populations PCORI is interested in research that seeks to better understand how different clinical and health system options work for different people. These populations are frequently studied in our portfolio or identified as being of interest by our stakeholders. View Glossary
Intervention Strategy Intervention Strategies PCORI funds comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER) studies that compare two or more options or approaches to health care, or that compare different ways of delivering or receiving care. View Glossary
State State The state where the project originates, or where the primary institution or organization is located. View Glossary
Last updated: October 18, 2023