Meditation for Chronic Pain

When your morning begins with pain, it plagues you throughout your day and your evening ends with pain, too, it is exhausting and not just physically exhausting, but mentally and emotionally, too. Anyone who has lived with chronic pain will know just how frustrating it is. Whether your chronic pain has a diagnosable name or you are still experiencing never-ending tests. The frustration can grow when you experience what you call a good day. Your body tricks you into thinking you have turned a corner only for you to experience the pain 10 times worse the following day.

Your situation is often compounded by others. You know, your friends and family who suddenly have a degree in medicine and attempt to make helpful suggestions about how best you can handle your condition. They may mean well, but the truth is that the average person cannot understand what you are going through because they haven’t lived it.

It can be difficult to empathize with someone that is dealing with something that you have never experienced. While your health may be deteriorating rapidly people won’t understand or they simply won’t care. If they can’t see your illness or your pain they can’t process how it could be so limiting. You don’t need to be dealing with their issues in addition to handling your condition.

For those dealing with chronic pain, there may be a difficult choice to make, it may be necessary to cut people from your life because they bring a negativity that makes dealing with your illness more difficult. If they can’t see that you are suffering, then how can they really be your friend? When you do find the people who are there for you, even though they can’t possibly understand, hold on to them tightly.

As someone dealing with chronic pain, you may have also concluded that a lot of medical professionals just aren’t very good at their job. Managing chronic pain is challenging for both the professional and the patient. It’s an ongoing process that requires the patience of both parties and persistence. Usually, the person in the pain is the only one who understands that. Don’t be afraid to search out the right doctor for you.

Remember, when you are dealing with chronic pain you get to feel however it is that you feel. Don’t apologize for having a bad day, and when you’re having a good day let people see that you still have limits. You don’t have to explain your pain or justify it. That doesn’t mean you should lash out at people, though, sorry.

While you don’t have to disclose your medical conditions to employers, educators, or anyone else on the planet, you can choose to if you feel it will help them understand some of your actions and behaviors. It’s okay, to be honest and it may make you feel better about suffering from chronic pain when it isn’t some sort of secret that is weighing on your mind.

More importantly, you need to listen to your body. You may have to give up some of the things you love temporarily simply because your body cannot keep up. When you do feel up to it you should get up and get out, this is imperative to your mental health.

It’s common for chronic pain sufferers to struggle with depression, so you should know what keeps your spirits flying high. Whether it’s a certain brand of tea, your favorite set of books, or a particular park or movie. Do whatever it takes to keep a smile on your face.

Having said all of that, studies (On The Effectiveness Of Mindfulness Meditation On Pain And Quality Of Life Of Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain, Banth S et al) have indicated that there is real value in using meditation as an effective means to relieve chronic pain.

 



Living With Pain

According to a survey from The Medical Expenditure Panel, around 100 million American adults are affected by chronic pain. There are other studies which have discounted arthritis and joint pain and still suggest that 15% of adult Americans are dealing with chronic pain.

It’s a common affliction for many and it is life-altering. Chronic pain patients may have to give up work, their favorite hobbies, physical activities, and they often struggle with sleeping which means increased pain and difficulty getting through their day (whether at work or not).

Additionally, it has a severe impact on the economy. Chronic pain is believed to cost the United States over $600 billion every year, which far exceeds the healthcare costs of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and injuries. The costs don’t just stem from managing the pain, but the conditions that the pain stems from and the complications caused by chronic pain.

Chronic pain is notoriously difficult to manage and the go-to answer for anything pain related is a prescription narcotic, or opiate. Opiates affect the brain in a way that helps relieve pain, and as a side effect produces a feeling of euphoria. You know that heroin is a narcotic, but did you realize that morphine, oxycodone, and methadone are, too? The latter is responsible for more deaths than heroin and in the US, according to the CDC, a third of painkiller overdoses involve the drug (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6126a5.htm?s_cid=mm6126a5_w).

While in the United Kingdom methadone is used specifically to help heroin addicts wean off the substance, the US still prescribes it as a painkiller. Instructions from the CDC has reduced this use of methadone, unfortunately, it is still in use as a painkiller.

It should come as no surprise then that the US is facing a serious opioid epidemic that is gripping the entire country. It may have started in New England, but it has spread from the east coast like wildfire and is rampant in all 50 states. In 2016 alone over 50,000 Americans died as the result of opioid overdoses. Many of those affected by the crisis were prescribed a painkiller to manage pain, and it spiraled out of control. While these drugs may be effective in reducing pain, they also cloud the thought process, leave patients operating below their normal capabilities, and increase the risk of addiction and substance abuse problems.

Meditation For Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is far different from acute pain. Chronic pain doesn’t always start because of an injury, though many do, it is exacerbated by external factors and persists long beyond when it should have healed. Factors such as emotions, environment, and stress can all contribute to the pain’s tenacity and intensity.

This is where meditation comes in. It’s an effective pain management method and there’s no need to worry about side effects or addiction.

Over the last decade, there have been countless studies researching the relationship between meditation and how it affects people. Researchers have looked at how meditation affects attention regulation, depression, body awareness, addiction, and PTSD. Additionally, scientists have studied how meditation can be used as a pain treatment. While it won’t cure your chronic pain, what it will do is provide significant relief.

One study asked if and how meditation helps chronic pain (The Effects of Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training on Experimentally Induced Pain, Zeidan et al). The study had just 15 participants and each underwent an MRI while the pain was induced. Each participant was then taught mindfulness meditation and given another MRI. One group meditated during the MRI and pain induction and the other group did not. The meditating group experienced a 40% reduction in the intensity of the pain.

In addition to this meditation is known to relieve stress, and stress can be a major factor in pain intensity. The bonus is that studies have indicated even beginning meditators see the benefits of the practice and you don’t need to be an experience Zen master to relieve your own pain using this method.

While the study mentioned above saw a pain reduction of 40% further studies have found it to be effective by 57% and for experienced meditators 90%.

Many pain clinics are prescribing meditation for chronic pain patients, as well as patients suffering from cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It has long been used for arthritis patients, as well as those with back problems, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and celiac disease.


How Meditation For Pain Works

The typical meditation will encourage focusing on various areas of your body. With each part of your body, you observe the pain as it arises and then let go of them. It doesn’t take long for you to realize pain has two forms: primary and secondary. Each has a different cause and it is the understanding of this that provides you with the control over your pain.

Primary pain is the result of injury, damage, or illness to the body. It’s raw information that your body is sending to your brain.

Secondary pain is how your mind reacts to the primary pain, however, it is longer lasting and more intense. An amplifier in your brain is controlling the overall intensity of your pain and suffering.

Researchers have turned their focus on how that amplifier works and how it can be controlled. See, the mind doesn’t just feel the pain, it’s processing the information within the pain. It will break down the different sensations in a big to find the pain’s underlying cause so that it can protect you from further injury. The brain basically zooms in for a microscopic look to find a solution to the issue, but it’s this zooming that amplifies your pain.

Your mind is attempting to analyze the pain, which means it is sifting through your brain for every memory related to injury and suffering. It’s on the hunt for clues and patterns that will lead it to the ultimate solution to prevent your pain. The trouble with that, for chronic pain patients, is that there could be years of memories to hunt through. Thus, your mind has been flooded with unwanted memories and you are enmeshed in thoughts of suffering and pain. You find yourself consumed with stress and anxiety, as well as your physical pain.

It happens in an instant before you have time to react, it’s a vicious cycle that only serves to amplify your pain. The stress and anxiety that this cycle creates only serves to exacerbate the pain, and hampers the immune system while it’s at it.

In fact, brain scans have indicated chronic pain sufferers have more tissue dedicated to feeling pain sensations. The volume knob of the brain is effectively stuck at maximum and then fallen off leaving you with no way to reduce it.

Mindfulness meditation hands you back control over the volume button and brain scans have confirmed this. As you regain control over the volume, you will find depression, stress, and anxiety melting away which allows your body to relax and work on healing.

Something that every chronic pain sufferer will hear during their treatment is that they’ll need to learn how to live with the pain. When you heard that phrase it probably enraged you. Perhaps because you hadn’t yet come to terms with the fact that the issue is incurable, or maybe because it wasn’t the first time you had heard that.


The Cultivation Of Awareness

You may have felt differently about that phrase had it been followed up with and this is how. Meditation is how you learn to live with pain. This cultivation of awareness has proven to be highly effective at reducing pain. By calming your mind and focusing it you can control the degree of pain that you experience.

  • Face It & Release It. The majority of chronic pain sufferers instinctively want to run from their pain. However, mindfulness meditation encourages patients to face up to it. By walking into the abyss, you can come to terms with your pain, learn how to address it, thus control it. Part of living with pain is facing up to it and the irritability, tension, and sweat that accompany it. It isn’t about fixating on your pain or even judging it, it’s about processing it and learning how to manage it effectively.
  • Divert Your Focus. If you haven’t taken the time to focus on your pain then you cannot truly experience it. For example, you find yourself focused on the pain and then someone swings a bat and hits you in the leg. Suddenly you forget about the initial pain because your total focus is now on what has just happened to your leg. Meditation is something like that, but a painless alternative. It helps you divert your focus away from the pain that you are experiencing.

Best Types Of Meditation For Pain Management

There is a variety of meditation types that may be suitable for pain management.

Walking Meditation

This is quite simply meditation that you practice while walking slowly. Your total focus should on the movements that your body makes as you proceed, which is why it’s a good place for beginners to start. It’s easier to focus your attention on walking than it is to sit quietly and shut the world out. The University of Berkeley offers helpful tips (http://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/walking_meditation) on how to effectively practice walking meditation.

Mindfulness Meditation

This should be the most familiar to you and it’s certainly the most commonly used meditation for relieving pain. This technique helps to quiet the mind, soothe bad thoughts, and refreshes your mind.

Because researchers believe that pain has an emotional component, mindfulness meditation can help divert your mind from pain by focusing on your breathing and keeping you in the present. UCLA offers guided mindfulness meditations (http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations).

Brain Scan Meditation

The name might put you off, but don’t worry, UCLA does offer guided routines (http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations) that will help you through the process. You’ll need a quiet and private place to carry this meditation out, and patience. You have to feel each and every area of your body and your mind will wander, but you need simply bring your mind back to the part of your body where your focus is.

The scan part of it is to lie (on the floor or a bed) and breathe until you feel as though your body has sunk into the floor. You focus on your breathing as you then study each region of your body.

Yoga Breathing

This deep breathing is an effective method for reducing the intensity of pain, all while relaxing your mind and your body.

Transcendental Meditation

Arthritis sufferers are commonly sent for transcendental meditation. It’s an effective way to relieve flares. It takes just 10 minutes and can be done every morning and evening. Not only will you experience relief from your pain, but your body and mind will also relax.

How Often Should You Meditate

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has found that three 20-minute sessions of meditation are sufficient to reduce the perception of pain at https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-11/uonc-ssb110909.php.

Additionally, Brown University research (https://news.brown.edu/articles/2013/02/mindfulness) has found meditation can change how the brain functions, thus reducing pain perception. This, for chronic pain patients, is life changing.

In addition to the links provided above, there are a wide variety of websites and apps on offer that can guide you through a variety of different types of meditation. Whether you are looking to control your stress levels or depression to help relieve your chronic pain, or you’re simply targeting the pain itself, there is a solution for you.

Because there are a variety of meditation types you can try the different options to find the one that is most effective for you and your condition. You don’t have to continue relying on prescription painkillers just to get through your day, you can take back control of your life and start to enjoy it again.

Conclusion

Quite simply, meditation can be used for pain relief and has already been used for hundreds of years. The studies may only be recent, but the results are clear – it is known to relieve several types of pain. One of the reasons meditation is becoming so popular in pain relief is because there are no side effects. Unless, of course, you count stress reduction a side effect. If so, then there are side effects and they are great.

Perhaps the most heartening outcome of the research studies that have been carried out is how dramatic the results are even for those just starting out. Meditation impacts the activity of brain waves, as well as blood flow, and the functions of neurotransmitters. In addition to its ability to serve as a pain reliever, it can improve your mental health. You can’t be well in your body when you are not well in your mind, so meditation improving your mental health can improve your body’s capacity to heal.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you, meditation means saying goodbye to painkillers, though you can keep them on hand for the most painful bouts of pain. You can forget opioids and narcotics and rely on meditation to shift your focus away from the pain and on relaxation and healing. As mentioned above opioids are dangerous and can be addictive. That isn’t even addressing the many side effects that accompany them and the other issues that present through those. While medication is effective in reducing your pain, it isn’t a long-term solution for chronic pain sufferers.

Meditation is effective in diverting your mind away from the feelings of pain and allowing to refocus your brain to other things. This brain diversion allows you to recover quickly and experience duller pain. It can also help you address mental health issues. Through focusing on your breathing, you learn to dismiss negative thoughts and sensations and refocus your mind to positive, comforting thoughts. According to researchers, this is because while you meditate the area of your brain that is responsible for processing emotions and maintaining focus becomes more active. This means your pain levels drop.

With very little time required for meditation, anyone who suffers from chronic pain should try out one of the guided sessions mentioned above and see what a difference just 10 minutes can make.

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