Managing Chronic Pain With Mind-Body Therapies

If you have chronic pain, there is now an important reason to add a regular yoga or mindfulness practice to your daily routine.
Chronic pain causes inflammation in the brain and can lead to a loss of gray matter. The areas of the brain that control self-awareness, emotions, memory and learning can all suffer when prolonged pain is present. Given our new understanding of how the brain can regenerate, we now know that this process can be reversed.
Research shows that mind-body techniques such as meditation and yoga have proven to be highly beneficial in calming the inflammatory process caused by pain, which in turn helps the brain to repair. There is a growing body of medical research proving that these therapies can actually reverse the loss of gray matter and even change the way we experience physical pain.
Here are some examples that illustrate this research:

  • A 2010 study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital found that mindfulness meditation, over the short period of only 8 weeks, increased the amount of gray matter in the regions of the brain involved in learning and memory, regulation of emotion, and self-awareness.
  • The results of a 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that “meditation-related pain relief was directly related to brain regions associated with the cognitive modulation of pain” and provided further insight into the manner by which meditation alters the subjective experience of pain. Patients experienced a reduction in “pain intensity” of about 40 percent and a reduction in “pain unpleasantness” of 57 percent. According to the lead author of the study, Fadel Zeidan, “Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.”
  • A 2014 study published in Cerebral Cortex found “that regular and long-term yoga practice improves pain tolerance in typical North Americans by teaching different ways to deal with sensory inputs and the potential emotional reactions attached to those inputs leading to a change in insular brain anatomy and connectivity.”

The studies above confirm what we have seen clinically in our own patients for many years, and meditation and yoga therapy continue to be an integral part of our treatment plans here at the Kaplan Center.
The bottom line? While meditation and yoga therapy may not be the entire solution, there is enough evidence to show that these therapies, when part of an individual’s comprehensive treatment plan, will help to alleviate pain, lessen anxiety and depression, and leave one with a greater sense of well-being.
If you would like to learn the principles of meditation or if you are ready to explore yoga therapy for your chronic pain, Laura Dorsett, MTS, offers group classes as well as private one-on-one consultations, here at the Kaplan Center.

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