An estimated 100 million American adults live with chronic pain, according to the 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.
Doctors and patients are forever searching for new strategies to help ease all that discomfort.
Two recent studies suggest that mindfulness meditation could be added to the pain management mix.
Dr. Fadel Zeidan of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center recruited 75 healthy, pain-free subjects. He scanned their brains with an MRI as they were subjected to a 120-degree thermal probe. He then divided them into four groups and gave them four days of different training.
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One group received mindful meditation training for 20 minutes each day. Members listened to specific instructions on how to focus their attention and observe their thoughts and emotions without judgment.
After four days, everyone went back to the MRI machine and endured the same painful thermal probe.
The group that received mindfulness meditation training experienced a 27 percent decrease in physical pain and a 44 percent decrease in emotional pain. Dr. Zeidan’s findings were published in the Nov. 18, 2015, issue of Neuroscience.
A second study appearing in the March 22, 2016, JAMA found that among 342 people with chronic low back pain, 61 percent who participated in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program showed improved function and reported less pain. The group receiving standard care for their pain reported 44 percent improvement.
Why does meditation work? Scientists have several theories. Chronic pain can rob sufferers of their sense of control over their bodies and lives. Meditation helps them reframe their situation and decrease their anxiety. It may also lower levels of stress hormones that raise heart rate, suppress the immune system and increase inflammation.
Linda Lewis Griffith’s column is special to The Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://www.lindalewisgriffith.com.
Here’s one way to meditate
- Select a quiet spot. You don’t want to be distracted or disturbed while you’re meditating.
- Find a comfortable way to be still. You may choose to sit on a meditation cushion (called a zafu) or in a chair. You may also opt to lie flat on your back.
- Sit up straight without being rigid. Allow your hands to rest in your lap or on your knees.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Don’t try to control it. Follow it moving in and out.
- Release thoughts as they arise. Your mind will wander. You’ll think of everything but your breath. Note that you’re distracted, then return attention to the breath.
- Let go of judgment. You may tell yourself, “This is stupid,” or worry that you’re not meditating the right way. Relax. Identify that you’re being critical. Come back to your breathing.
- Meditate for a specified amount of time. Begin meditating for 10 to 15 minutes each day. Increase time as you become more comfortable with the process. Use a kitchen timer or set your cellphone to notify you when your time is up.
- Be patient. Meditation is a skill. It takes practice to become proficient.
- Be realistic. Meditation will not get rid of all unpleasant thoughts. Rather, it will increase awareness of all aspects of your life. And help you accept yourself — and your situation — as you are.