Could honing your meditation technique cure chronic pain? It's worth contemplating.By: BY EMILY MAIN
RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Chronic pain is estimated to affect over 76 million people, more than diabetes and heart disease combined, and back pain is our country's leading cause of disability for people under 45. And though the pharmaceutical industry seems very adept at introducing one new painkiller after another, the pills don't always help. A new study in the Journal of Neuroscience, however, suggests something else might: meditation. It seems that improving yourmeditation technique could very well be more effective than painkillers at cutting down on pain, and that could save you hundreds in prescription drug costs.
THE DETAILS: This was a small study that looked at just 15 adults who sat through four 20-minute training sessions on mindfulness meditation. However, before and after the training, the participants' brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and during each scan, the researchers put a heating device that induced pain for a five-minute period on each of the meditators' right leg at varying intervals. The brain scans revealed that before meditation, the section of the brain that processes pain was very active, while after meditation training, activity levels were virtually undetectable. Furthermore, after the meditation training, the study participants reported an average 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and an average 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. The study authors noted that morphine and other pain-relieving drugs usually reduce pain perception and unpleasantness by just 25 percent.
WHAT IT MEANS: It's no surprise that mindfulness meditation techniques can help us cope with difficult situations, and this mind-body connection has been so extensively studied by researchers that doctors already know that meditation canlower blood pressure, depression, anger, and anxiety. Some evidence suggests it can boost your immune system and prevent the flu, among other illnesses. However, this is the first study to show that it can lower actual physical pain. "This study shows that meditation produces real effects in the brain and can provide an effective way for people to substantially reduce their pain without medications," the authors write.
If you find yourself suffering from some form of chronic pain, try mindfulness meditation. Fortunately, it's easy to learn, and as this study shows, you only need a few minutes a day to reap the benefits.
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