Impact of Meditation on Chronic Pain

Inspired Medics gives you insights from 3 practicing medical professionals on using meditation techniques in clinical practice

What does the evidence say?

by Dr Emma Short

There is a wealth of studies examining the medical benefits of mindfulness and meditation for many conditions including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and mental health disorders. In this article we look at the impact that they have on pain.

The practices of mindfulness and meditation have been shown to modulate how noxious stimuli are interpreted and also the severity of pain. A paper in the Journal of Neuroscience (1) describes a study in which 15 healthy volunteers took part in a 4-day programme of mindful meditation. After the intervention, the participants were exposed to a noxious thermal stimulus. The investigators reported that meditating led to a reduced perception of pain 'unpleasantness' by 57% and reduced pain intensity ratings by 40%. The individuals taking part in the study also underwent MRI imaging. This showed that meditation-induced reductions in pain intensity ratings were associated with changes in neuronal activity in areas of the brain involved in the cognitive regulation of pain processing, the contextual evaluation of sensory events and in pain transmission. The study authors concluded that meditation engages multiple brain mechanisms that can alter how we subjectively construct a pain experience.

Mindfulness can have an important role to play in the management of chronic pain conditions. A randomised clinical trial published in JAMA (2) allocated adults aged 65 years or older with chronic low back pain to either undergo a mindfulness-based stress reduction program (n=140) or a health education programme (n=142). The mindfulness training comprised an 8-week programme followed by 6 monthly sessions. The patient cohort who underwent mindfulness training experienced improved pain ratings compared to the control group, in addition to an improvement in short-term function scores.

Dr Emma Short is a Histopathologist with a PhD in Cancer Genetics, published Author and Editor and a Meditation Teacher. She has written a new module on Meditation and Mindfulness for the Inspired Medics course, The Future of Healthcare is Lifestyle Medicine.

Using meditation and mindfulness in Specialist Pain Clinics

by Dr Sanjeeva Gupta

Dr Sanjeeva Gupta, is a Consultant in Pain Management at the Bradford Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Nuffield Hospital, Leeds. He recommends mindfulness and meditation to some of his patients with persistent / chronic pain as a supplementary measure. In Sanjeeva's opinion, mindfulness and meditation is like "physiotherapy" for emotions, feelings and mind. It can complement mainstream medicine in a very useful manner. The patients preferences are key, i.e. personalised care, as the benefits are seen for the individuals who have a willingness to practice mindfulness and meditation as part of their management plan.

Dr. Sanjeeva Gupta - Consultant in Pain Medicine

Sanjeeva has edited 5 books on Pain Medicine and was Winner of the British Medical Association, Medical Book of the Year Award 2015.

What to recommend to your patients interested in exploring meditation and mindfulness?

by Dr Angela Goyal

I often use the term 'relaxation breathing' to appeal to patients who have not heard of mindfulness or meditation before.

So for example, if I see a patient with anxiety or raised blood pressure, I might suggest we try some relaxation breathing together and see what happens. For patients who are willing, we do this for a couple of minutes together. To date, this has been a very positive experience for my patients. Together, we see that the anxiety i