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New Study Finds Mindfulness Meditation Can Reduce Chronic Pain

If you’re someone that suffers from chronic pain, there may be a highly effective, medication-free option you haven’t explored yet: mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) was founded back in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and recent studies have been demonstrating just how effective MBSR can be.

In a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 342 patients who suffer from chronic low-back pain were divided into two groups. One group was treated with MBSR and the other was treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT patients focused on using strategies that incorporated thought and behavior modification, while MBSR used yoga and mindfulness meditation. All patients participated in weekly workshops for a total of eight weeks before continuing to practice the pain relieving strategies back home.

After all patients used their respective strategies for one year, MBSR proved to be more helpful. The CBT group results capped after 26 weeks, while the MBSR group results capped after 52 weeks.

Mindfulness is thought to be so effective on chronic pain for a number of reasons. First, mindfulness helps bring a different perspective to pain. Instead of having perpetual negative thoughts and anxiety over discomfort, mindfulness meditation allows people to study their pain with curiosity and without judgement.

It also brings a more realistic awareness to the situation, so for example, someone who may think they suffer from pain all day, may realize through mindful meditation that he or she actually feels pain only in certain circumstances, positions, or a predictable number of times a day. Being more aware of the highs and lows of pain can help people manage it.

Another way mindfulness might help with chronic pain is by helping us manage goals and expectations. When we expect pain to go away with a certain practice, exercise, or medication, and it doesn’t, our brain naturally becomes alarmed and frustrated. We start to think things like “nothing ever works,” “this pain is the worst,” “it’ll never go away.” This kind of attitude actually amplifies our subjective view of our pain. This is why mindfulness, which allows us to bring more objective observation to our pain, can be so effective in reducing our own perceptions of chronic pain.

Now that you have a better understanding of how mindful mediation can help you deal with chronic pain, give the following mindful-based strategies a try for yourself:

Body scan – A body scan is an essential part of the MBSR practice. In a seated position with closed eyes, slowly run through every part of your body in your own mind, paying attention to each different part, starting from your feet and moving up to the top of your head. As you check in with each body part, notice the sensations that are present in each part. This will allow you to better understand where your body feels unbalanced. It will also help you keep your pain in perspective: “this is what my pain feels like right now. It may not always feel this way.”

Focus on the breath – We often get so preoccupied with physical or even emotional pain that we neglect to give our minds and bodies a break from the experience. In a seated position with closed eyes, breath in until you fill up every part of your lungs from bottom to top. Hold for 5 seconds, and then breath out slowly until you have completely emptied your lunge. Do this 5 times, moving slowing and paying attention to each moment of the breath. This exercise will not only calm the body and mind, but it will help you escape the ruminating thoughts you may be suffering from about your pain.

Distractions – Distractions come in most handy when your pain is high, especially when breathing exercises aren’t working. Sometimes we need something more engaging that we can completely throw our minds into. Ideally your distraction of choice should get you into a “flow state” that allows you to forget about your own awareness entirely. Read a book, write a story, compose a song, etc. Do activities that require full attention of your thoughts and even make your forget about time itself as you’re doing them. Sometimes the best way to manage your pain is simply by getting your mind off of it.

There’s no medication that will eliminate chronic pain forever, so we need alternative ways to manage pain using our own minds and resources. Chronic pain can easily start to feel like it’s running our lives. Mindfulness meditation can help us re-capture control of our lives.

John Kaweske, Colorado resident, has been meditating for years. He finds that the practice helps him with his focus and ability to lead his entrepreneurial ventures. To learn more about his career and life, please visit his main website.

New Study Says Mindfulness Meditation Can Significantly Reduce Pain

It seems like these days meditation researchers are constantly finding new benefits of mindfulness meditation. And today is no different!

A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience has found that mindfulness meditation is able to significantly reduce pain not only more effectively than a placebo, but using different neural mechanisms.

Previously, we had known that mindfulness meditation is capable of reducing pain in experimental and clinical settings, but the significance of this affect was yet to be determined.

To figure out exactly how effective mindfulness meditation is at pain reduction, Dr. Fadel Zeidan, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and his team of researchers looked to both measure and differentiate it’s effects from the pain-relieving mechanisms associated with a placebo (e.g., conditioning, psychosocial context, beliefs). Placebo comparisons are the most common means of evaluation the efficacy of behavior interventions, so it is imperative to use when determining whether we can soundly support meditation-based pain relief programs as a meaningful solution.

Researchers began with 75 healthy volunteers who were randomly assigned one of the following groups:

(1) mindfulness meditation,

(2) placebo conditioning,

(3) sham mindfulness meditation, or

(4) book-listening control intervention.

The placebo conditioning group received placebo cream they were told reduces pain over time (but was in fact petroleum jelly.) For four days, they were instructed to rub it on the back of their leg.

The sham mindfulness meditation group was taught a kind of “fake” mindfulness meditation: they were told to breathe deeply for 20 minutes but were given no instructions on how to do it mindfully.

The control group had to listen to 20 minutes of a pretty boring book on tape: The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne.

The group who received the real mindfulness meditation intervention were instructed to sit for 20 minutes with straight posture, closed eyes, and specific instructions about where to focus one’s attention and how to let thoughts and emotions pass without judgment.

To measure experiences of pain and the neural mechanisms being activated, participants were places in an MRI machine where researchers used a small thermal probe to elevate a small area of skin to 120.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers also asked participants to rate the intensity of the pain, as well as their emotional response to the pain. They performed this test both before and after the various interventions.

It’s important to note that all of the cognitive manipulations that were tested (i.e., mindfulness meditation, placebo conditioning, sham mindfulness meditation) significantly weakened pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings when compared to the control group.

However, mindfulness meditation was found to reduce pain intensity and pain unpleasantness ratings significantly more than placebo analgesia. Mindfulness meditation also reduced pain intensity and pain unpleasantness ratings more than sham mindfulness meditation.

The placebo cream reduced the sensation of pain by an average of 11% and emotional unpleasantness of pain by 13%. For the sham mindfulness group, the averages were 9% and 24% respectively. But for mindfulness meditation, the sensation of pain was reduced by a whopping 27% and emotional response reduced by 44%. To put those numbers into a different context, past research has found that the opioid morphine reduces physical pain by 22%.

Also, while all forms of intervention reduced pain, mindfulness-related interventions actually engaged different parts of the brain than the others.

Mindfulness-meditation was associated with greater activation the brains orbitofrontal, subgenual anterior cingulate, and anterior insular cortex. These are the higher-order brain regions associated with attention control and enhanced cognitive control. They also exhibited a deactivation of the thalamus, which is a structure that allows pain to enter into the brain.

In contrast, the placebo group experienced activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and deactivation of sensory processing regions.

The sham mindfulness group was not correlated with significant neural activity, but rather by greater reductions in respiration rate.

This study is the first to demonstrate that mindfulness-related pain relief is mechanistically distinct from the placebo effect. For researchers, this confirms the existence of multiple, cognitively driven mechanisms responsible for pain modulation. The presence of unique mechanisms may create greater acceptance in the medical community of meditation as an adjunct pain therapy.

The biggest question to answer now is: who will benefit most from this form of pain intervention? It is yet to be tested if this method works better or worse for certain groups or types of pain, and further studies are sure to follow that will help us figure out how we can best use these finding to alleviate people’s pain in the real world.

John Kaweske, Colorado resident, has been meditating for years. He finds that the practice helps him with his focus and ability to lead his entrepreneurial ventures. To learn more about his career and life, please visit his main website.

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