Meditation: Can It Help Reduce Your Pain?

//Meditation: Can It Help Reduce Your Pain?

Meditation: Can It Help Reduce Your Pain?

Meditation, which can be practiced in many different forms, has been used for thousands of years to benefit the mind, body and soul. Now there is a growing body of medical research proving that meditation not only modifies brain function, it can actually change the way we experience physical pain.

A study reported in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that patients who had received only a little more than 60 minutes of meditation training were able to dramatically reduce their 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.”

These results are exciting, and they confirm what we have seen clinically in our own patients at the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine. In fact, in the mid-1990’s, I had the opportunity to serve on an NIH Consensus Panel that confirmed the effectiveness of relaxation and behavioral approaches in the treatment of chronic pain and insomnia. Meditation training has been part of the Clinic’s comprehensive treatment program for over 20 years.

In the meantime, medical research has demonstrated that many difficult to treat chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, celiac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome, are mediated by central nervous system sensitization. It is only logical that meditation, which improves nervous system functioning, would help to alleviate chronic pain.

This is not to say that meditation is the entire answer; but can be a powerful part of an individual’s comprehensive treatment, along with physical exercise, dietary changes, nutritional supplementation, physical therapy, and appropriate medications.

The following are some practical resources on meditation and working with physical pain, offered by experienced meditators:

My hope is that these tools and the encouraging research results listed below will inspire you to commit to your own meditation practice.

  • A recent 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 regions of the brain involved in learning and memory, regulation of one’s emotions, and self-awareness. This new study is very exciting because it suggests that meditation may be able to help heal the brains of people who suffer with chronic pain, depression, and anxiety disorders.
  • Other studies have shown that regular meditation helps improve immune function and reduce individuals’ feelings of anxiety and fear and enhance their natural creativity and problem-solving abilities.
  • Practicing mindfulness meditation has been shown to increase our empathy for others allowing for improved communication and relations with colleagues, family and friends.
  • Research indicates that a regular practice of meditation, by facilitating relaxation of the body and mind, also can help improve sleep, lessen the sensation of pain, and lower blood pressure.
  • There is also clinical evidence that meditating can help improve depression and increase one’s overall sense of well being by providing a method of letting go of fearful thoughts and decreasing emotional reactivity.

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About the Author:

Gary Kaplan, DO
Gary Kaplan, D.O. is the founder and medical director of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine and author of Total Recovery: A Revolutionary New Approach to Breaking the Cycle of Pain and Depression. A pioneer and leader in the field of integrative medicine, Dr. Kaplan is one of only 19 physicians in the country to be board-certified in both Family Medicine and Pain Medicine. Dr. Kaplan is a Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and serves on the Advisory Committee to Health and Human Services for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. To read Dr. Kaplan's complete bio, click here.