Can Meditation Treat Chronic Pain?

Suffering from chronic pain is unpleasant and can negatively impact not only your physical health, but also your mental health. Sufferers can go into a downward spiral of depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Doctors recommend a variety of approaches to treat chronic pain – from physical therapy to prescription anti-inflammatory pain patches to surgery. Acupuncture has also been put out there as an effective remedy. But now science is supporting that meditation can treat persistent pain.

Does Meditation Help?

In a 2011 Wake Forest University study, brain scans were taken of healthy volunteers while pain was being induced on them. In the following days, the participants were taught mindfulness meditation by a certified instructor. On the fifth day, brain scans were once again performed when subjects were meditating and another time when they were not meditating, with pain being induced in both instances. Findings showed about a 40% reduction in pain intensity when volunteers were meditating compared with when they were not.

The study concluded that meditation helps in reducing pain in patients by triggering and strengthening parts of the brain used in pain processing. The study also theorises that meditation lessens stress, which in turn reduces pain. More importantly, meditation as a pain relief works even for beginners. This means you don’t have to be a seasoned practitioner to feel the benefits of meditation.

How Does Meditation Help?

Various studies have shown that four areas of the brain involved in pain processing or emotional and behavioural regulation have different activity levels during and after meditation. Meditation has been shown to alter the primary somatosensory cortex, anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex and prefrontal cortex. Pain is reduced by diminishing activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, the part that processes pain, and it heightens activity in the three other regions.

Patients learn how to react to pain through meditation. When meditating, patients are taught to believe (and focus) that pain is transitory and doesn’t deserve a strong emotional response from them. Patients can take control back from pain and live life again to the fullest. Meditation is ideal for those sufferers when traditional Western medicine no longer works.

There are various meditation techniques you can learn and practice to relieve and treat chronic pain, including mindfulness meditation. It is easy to learn and just right for beginners. A popular subject of hundreds of scientific research, mindfulness meditation has been proven to lessen the anticipation of and reaction to pain by teaching patients to focus on the moment and embrace it fully. Other helpful and effective techniques include Vipassana meditation, Loving-Kindness Meditation and Vedananupassana Meditation.

Aside from the fact that treating chronic pain is expensive, managing it can be difficult. However, meditation doesn’t cost anything. Just a quiet corner, a few minutes of your time each day, and of course, a little bit of dedication and commitment.


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