Studies Show Meditation for Pain Management is Effective

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Dealing with persistent pain that doesn’t respond to medications is very difficult. Luckily, there appears to be a new, natural treatment option for pain. Meditation for pain management has recently been found to be effective when treating pain caused by several conditions. Although the meditation won’t completely cure the pain, those who have tried it say they feel much better and experience less pain. The benefits are produced as the relaxation techniques cause pain-relieving effects in the brain.

Pain Management with Meditation

In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts, had an idea to teach patients Buddhist meditation without having to practice Buddhism. “The idea was to actually… train these medical patients in Buddhist meditative practices, but without the Buddhism,” said Kabat-Zinn.

This lead the way to experimenting with meditation and painful conditions such as arthritis. The idea behind the method is to promote mind-body health. “The heart of Buddhist meditation is actually called mindfulness, and our operational definition of it is really paying attention in the only moment we’re ever alive — which is the present moment,” Kabat-Zinn says.

By teaching patients relaxation techniques, researchers found that the patients developed a number of benefits, including decreased stress, lower heart rates, positive hormonal changes and improved immune functions. Using the combination of meditation and conventional medications, patients reported less pain, especially arthritis patients.

“Relaxing and quieting your mind by focusing on your breathing can reduce stress – even the stress that comes with arthritis flares,” says David E. Yocum, MD, director of the Arizona Arthritis Center in Tucson.

Numerous studies have been conducted to evaluate how meditation helps painful conditions. One small study consisted of 63 patients who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. In only two short months after beginning the mindfulness training, the patients reported feeling better even though their pain hadn’t fully dissipated. A scan showed their psychological distress had decreased by as much as 30 percent.

It’s true that not everyone’s arthritis status changed,” says mindfulness course instructor Trish Magyari. “However, the (patients) feel like they’re coping with their arthritis much better than they were before.”

Another study consisted of 15 volunteers who had never meditated previously. The volunteers attended four 20-minute sessions to learn one meditation technique known as focused attention. During the sessions, the volunteers were taught how to breath correctly while letting go of distracting emotions and thoughts.

“This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation," said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study. Zeidan went on to say, “We found a big effect – about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.”

Types of Meditation for Pain

There are several forms of meditation that have shown to be effective for relieving pain. One form is called yoga breathing. This involves two-minute sessions twice per day that focus on breathing. It’s best to practice the breathing in the morning and evening. It’s recommended you sit in a comfortable chair that’s relaxing while you inhale for four seconds and then exhale for six seconds.

Meditation walking is a great relaxation exercise for those who are medically cleared to enter a walking program. This form of meditation involves a slow steady walk while focusing on your body’s movements, not daily tasks and chores or daily stresses.

Guided imagery has shown to be beneficial as well. This involves sitting and listening to a relaxing voice that aids you with focusing on beautiful scenes. It allows you to focus and visualize, taking your mind off of pain. It’s best to do this while walking or sitting in a comfortable chair.

Another method that can be used is mindful meditation. This involves focusing on movement or a specific feeling with the use of quieting thoughts. This method has proven to be one of the most beneficial meditation techniques when used for pain management.

Transcendental meditation is often used for people who have arthritis. This meditation technique simply involves sitting in a comfortable chair with the eyes closed for 20 minutes in the morning and evening. This allows the mind to transcend all mental activity while opening up a state of consciousness.

These meditation techniques allow patients to learn how to shift their focus during pain flaress. Instead of focusing on their pain, they learn to take their minds elsewhere, reducing the amount of pain they experience.


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