Using Meditation for Chronic Pain Relief
Patients with chronic pain are often treated with a combination of multiple different strategies to improve their daily pain and function. As patients search for solutions, they tend to neglect non-medical treatments for their chronic pain, one of them being meditation. When thinking about meditation as a supplement for pain relief, patients generally react with immense skepticism. However, meditation is becoming a much more popular treatment as people try to prioritize living overall healthier lifestyles.
How can meditation affect pain?
Meditation is the practice of calming one's body by recognizing and relaxing your muscles and then subsequently your mind. When you meditate, your body gains access to stress relief as an indirect route to pain relief. By relaxing the mind and body, stress is relieved, which causes less tension in your body, in turn relieving pain. The exact mechanism by which meditation affects pain is not well understood. However, a proposed mechanism is that regular daily meditation can cause a decrease in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system which plays a key role in stress and pain. There are positive effects during and after the act of meditation. There is also much literature already suggesting that pain and attention are intimately connected as well. Meditation by its nature seems to be a way of focusing one’s attention. When you feel pain and begin to meditate, your focus will shift to relaxing your body and away from the pain you once were experiencing. Once you are completely relaxed, you will feel much more calm and your brain will be able to process your pain in a more efficient way. These are the double faceted benefits for calming mind and body and the temporary pain relief you will experience.
Why should you consider trying regular meditation for chronic pain relief?
Meditation is certainly an unconventional treatment for chronic pain and is unlikely to completely eradicate one’s pain symptoms alone. However, it is a practice that offers little risk and can potentially benefit a patient suffering from chronic debilitating pain. It is also available to everyone and completely free of charge so the benefits seem to outweigh the risks in this regard. The benefits of meditation are not only limited to chronic pain. Meditation has been shown to offer benefits for people with an assortment of maladies such as depression, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses. Through consistent and regular meditation, one is able to calm and focus their mind which can in turn decrease stress as well as pain.
How does one meditate?
This method can be practiced at any time, as long as it is a comfortable environment. Let me illustrate an example of how a meditation session can be practiced. First, you should find a comfortable position whether it is sitting or lying down. Then, begin breathing in through your nose and taking a deep exhale through your mouth. Next, begin to notice the muscles in your body and intentionally relax them, moving from your toes to your head. If your mind wanders that is ok and completely normal. Calming your thoughts is a very difficult task that needs to be worked up to do for extended periods of time. Two minutes is generally a good starting point. When your mind wanders, notice where it goes and bring it back to the task at hand. Focus only on your muscles and their relaxation. Finally, relax your heart and recognize the steady slow breathing that is occurring. When you feel you are at a point to get up, start to wiggle your toes and bring energy back into your body and slowly flutter open your eyes and go about your day. You will recognize a certain calmness and warmth during and after meditation.
Meditation can be a useful practice that can have many potential health benefits. Although the effect of meditation likely varies in individuals, it is certainly possible that meditation can improve pain in chronic pain patients. It is also unlikely that meditation has any serious negative health effects. Therefore, meditation could be a useful supplement to a patients multimodal pain treatment plan and certainly shows promise to be more widely adopted in the future as it is studied further.
Author: Reggie Rudd
Editor: Dave Thiagaram