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The human back is a complex structure with bones, nerves, tendons, discs, and more — all places where something can go wrong and cause pain, which, for many people, becomes a long-term or chronic problem. Life stresses and other medical and mental health conditions aggravate the problem.

With so many pieces, it’s hard to get a holistic view of the puzzle or pinpoint the cause of the pain.

“People tend to focus on one aspect or another,” said Jeffrey Lotz, Ph.D., a medical engineer who studies back pain at the University of California, San Francisco. “Some people think it’s largely in the mind; some people think it’s largely in the back.”

To address this problem, a team of researchers funded by the Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM Initiative, or NIH HEAL InitiativeSM, is creating a whole-system model of chronic low back pain to represent everything that contributes to chronic low back pain or help treat it — from anxiety to tissue damage and from psychotherapy to surgery.

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