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Can Meditation Reduce Chronic Back Pain?

May 16, 2017
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If you suffer from chronic back pain and want to embrace a more holistic approach to pain management, a 2016 study suggests that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) may be a viable alternative.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction combines the mindfulness exercises incorporated in meditation and yoga. The eight-week study examined a group of people with chronic low back pain and taught participants how to focus on living in the present, while understanding and accepting their pain.

The six-month study reported a 30 percent improvement in back pain sufferers in their ability to carry out daily activities over those treating their pain with medication only. Researchers said that MBSR, “may be an effective treatment option for patients with chronic low back pain.”

And while results may vary depending on the level and scope of your pain, one thing is certain: when you focus on your pain, it doesn’t go away. It increases it because your awareness is directed towards it. Another reason to give MBSR a try.

“When your focus is on the pain, obviously that increases the pain,” said lifestyle medicine expert Jane Ehrman, MEd. “For people who meditate, their muscle tension and heart rate drops, their respiration slows and breaths gets deeper. All those things have [an] impact on the pain.”

In another study conducted by Fadel Zeidan of Wake Forest University in 2011, findings showed that of 15 participants with chronic back pain who were taught to meditate over the course of five days. At the end of the five days, participants saw an approximate 40 percent reduction in pain intensity. Zeidan explained that meditation has known to be helpful for a while, but he has shown through this study and another conducted in 2010 that it takes much less time to see results than previously thought.

For people with chronic pain, meditation allows them to gain control over ailments that have long had control over them and the quality of their lives. What meditation does that pain medications can’t do is address in a real and practical way the psychological and social aspects of pain. Meditation can treat pain from every level and it diminishes the anxiety surrounding pain, which leaves those with chronic back pain happier, feeling more in control and less emotionally connected to their pain.

“Meditation teaches patients how to react to the pain,” Zeidan said. “People are less inclined to have the ‘Ouch’ reaction, then they are able to control the emotional reaction to pain.”

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