Easing Chronic Pain with Mindfulness

A recent study demonstrates that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is effective in easing pain symptoms.

Demonstration of body scan meditation, modified with cushions for added comfort. Photo Credit: Dollar Photo Club

If you’re one of the millions of adults who suffer from chronic pain or disease, there may be some good news: An eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program has proven effective in easing pain.

A recent study looked at 38 participants at Kaiser Permanente, Colorado, who suffered mostly from back or joint pain or psychological distress. Patients were assessed at the beginning and end of the program and at one year after the baseline assessment. Changes in how they used the health-care system were compared for the six-month period before the first MBSR class and 18 months after completion of the class. During the class, participants were introduced to core MBSR practices, including a guided body scan, some yoga, and sitting and walking meditation.

Not only did the patients report significant improvements in mental and physical function after taking the course, but they significantly decreased their use of health services such as emergency rooms and specialty care.

“When it comes to chronic pain, the key is learning to live with it rather than vainly trying to avoid or eradicate it,” Christiane Wolf, M.D., writes in the April 2015 issue of Mindful magazine.

Wolf says a regular meditation practice is the best ongoing foundation for working with pain:

Mindfulness practice is a wonderful opportunity to do just that. It helps to shift the locus of control from the outside (“this is happening to me and there is nothing I can do about it”) to the inside (“this is happening to me but I can choose how I relate to it”).

Want to try? Wolf has composed a mindfulness practice for coping with pain.

This article also appears the June 2015 issue of Mindful magazine. Composed with help from Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, U of Wisconsin-Madison, Center for Mindfulness, U of Massachusetts Medical School, and Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley.