Mindfulness is a powerful painkiller that can dramatically enhance quality of life in chronic pain sufferers – latest research
Mindfulness is a powerful painkiller that can dramatically enhance quality of life in chronic pain sufferers, suggests new research. The findings add weight to previous studies which discovered that mindfulness can reduce pain severity by around 50 percent.
This new meta-analysis, published in the peer-reviewed journal Evidence Based Mental Health, analysed the evidence from 21 previous studies involving 2,000 chronic pain sufferers. It was designed to assess whether mindfulness was as effective as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for relieving chronic pain and its associated distress. CBT can be effective and has none of the side-effects of traditional painkillers such as lethargy and addiction. But, crucially, not everyone benefits from CBT.
Most of the participants in this new analysis were women aged between 35 and 65 and suffered largely from musculoskeletal pain. In nearly 40 percent of the studies, participants had endured their pain for more than a decade.
This new analysis suggests that mindfulness is just as effective as CBT when it comes to improving ‘physical functioning’. And both mindfulness and CBT were equally good at reducing pain and its associated conditions such as depression.
Dr Wei Cheng, lead researcher on the study carried out at the Ottawa Hospital, Ontario, Canada, said: “While CBT is considered to be the preferred psychological intervention for chronic pain, not all patients experience a clinically significant treatment response.
‘Although a number of recommendations have been proposed to improve CBT for patients with chronic pain, an additional solution may be to offer patients Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction since it shows promise in improving pain severity and reducing pain interference and psychological distress.’
Previous work has shown that mindfulness meditation is highly effective at directly relieving chronic pain and also reducing the distress it causes. For example, work carried out by Fadel Zeidan at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina discovered that mindfulness can reduce chronic pain by 57 percent. Accomplished meditators can reduce it by over 90 percent.
Dr Zeidan said: ‘Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs.’
As I explain in our book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing, which is recommended by the British Medical Association, meditation achieves these remarkable results because it turns down the ‘volume’ control on pain. (Our book is published in the US as You Are Not Your Pain).
A typical meditation involves focusing on different parts of the body and simply observing with the mind’s eye what you find. This allows you to see your mind and body in action, to observe painful sensations as they rise and fall, and to let go of struggling with them. And when you do this, something remarkable happens: your suffering begins to melt away of its own accord. It also creates a relaxed state of mind that reduces the level of stress hormones in the body. Such deep relaxation enhances healing and boosts mental and physical health.
Imaging studies show that mindfulness soothes the brain patterns underlying pain and, over time, these changes take root and alter the structure of the brain itself, so that patients no longer feel pain with the same intensity. Many say that they barely notice it at all.
For these reasons, hospital pain clinics now prescribe mindfulness meditation to help patients cope with the suffering arising from a wide range of diseases such as cancer (and the side effects of chemotherapy), heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. It is also used for back problems, migraine, fibromyalgia, coeliac disease, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and even multiple sclerosis.
You can download free meditations from You Are Not Your Pain/Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeingfrom here.
The Art Of Breathing: The Secret To Living Mindfully, by Dr Danny Penman, is published in the US by Conari Press