Using Meditation to Manage Pain

Years of research and clinical experience demonstrate that behavioral medicine methods can have a powerful effect on pain, especially when used in conjunction with medical treatment. Behavioral medicine examines and trains an individual to become aware of the power of the mind and emotions on physical health. One potent method for recovering health is meditation.

Meditation is a special form of focusing attention, becoming aware and directing consciousness. Dr. Kabat-Zinn, who directs the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, uses mindfulness meditation to help patients who have chronic pain and stress. Mindfulness meditation is focusing attention from moment-to-moment.

Studies showing effectiveness of meditation

Dr. Kabat-Zinn found that patients who regularly performed mindfulness meditation experienced a 30% improvement in activities of daily living such as cooking, driving, sex, and sleeping. Mood was significantly improved (55%); negative feelings (anxiety, depression, anger) were reduced, positive feelings increased, and preoccupation with health problems decreased. By the end of Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s 8-week program, patients reported taking less pain medication, being more active, and feeling better overall.

Mindfulness meditation can have a positive effect on multiple levels of a person’s life. A large study by Reibel, et al. (2001) showed similar results to Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s study; quality of life improved after regular meditation practice. Patients reported increased energy, reduced body pain, higher functioning, and an increased ability to socialize. Medical symptoms were reduced 28%, anxiety decreased 44%, and depression decreased 34% during the time of the study. Follow-up with these patients a year later indicated that these improvements were maintained. Several other studies have shown additional support for meditation for treatment of pain-related illnesses.

Learning meditation

There are many resources for learning mindfulness meditation such as books, tapes, on-line information, and lectures or workshops. A behavioral health therapist may be consulted about learning meditation along with biofeedback and relaxation. In addition, patients may begin to create their own meditation practice in the following manner:

  • Find a quiet space and sit upright in a chair or on the floor. The spine should be kept straight either unassisted or supported by the wall or cushions. Postural alignment is important and should convey dignity and calm. It is nice to beautify your space—put flowers on a table, for instance. Turn off the phone.
  • Practice for 10 minutes to start. Set an alarm so that you do not have to worry about how much time has passed during the session.
  • Focus on your breathing. Feel your breath come in and feel it go out. When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breathing. You may find that your mind wanders 100 times in 10 minutes; just gently bring your attention back to your breathing.

There are many techniques for mindfulness meditation and conscious breathing. With practice and patience, pain sufferers can make a difference in managing their health through this technique.