Meditation's emphasis on relaxation can be helpful in treating chronic pain conditions in which muscles are frequently tensed. Muscle tension is common in:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Chronic back pain
  • Neck pain

Mindful meditation most likely will not eliminate pain. Instead, it can change the way pain is perceived and change the reaction to pain.

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How Meditation Works

Meditation focuses on consciousness and concentration. Typically, the goal is to achieve greater awareness of the surrounding environment and physical sensations that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Meditation has been found to:

  • Release tension
  • Reduce stress hormones1
  • Improve quality of life2

Anxiety and depression are often associated with chronic pain, and meditation has been found to improve both without the use of medication.3

Fundamentals of Meditation

There are some general similarities among the many types of meditation:

  • Quiet location. Meditating is usually most helpful when done in a quiet place with minimal distractions.
  • Comfortable position. Meditating while walking, seated, or lying down is typical.
  • Neutral attitude. Distractions or thoughts that occur are accepted without judging them to be good or bad.
  • Focus. Rather than thinking about pain, attention is elsewhere, such as on a certain word or phrase, a physical object, or a specific breathing pattern.

Techniques for meditation can be learned fairly quickly, with help from an instructor, online sources, or smart phone apps. Over time, skills can be developed so that meditation is deeper and more effective.

Common Forms of Meditation

These are many forms of meditation. These are the 3 most commonly used to help chronic pain:

  • Mindful meditation. Mindful meditation, or mindfulness, focuses on the present, emphasizing acceptance rather than trying to relive past difficulties or worry about future challenges.
  • Deep breathing exercises. Chronic pain can often lead to quick, shallow breathing which puts the body in a state of stress and can sometimes make pain worse. One simple breathing exercise consists of breathing in deeply through the nose, slowly counting to 10, then pursing the lips and exhaling slowly through the mouth.
  • Guided imagery. Drawing on the power of the imagination, the focus is on a pleasant scenario to relax and ease anxiety or depression.

Meditation and how it is practiced can vary from person to person. Generally, there is no right or wrong way to meditate so long as the person is comfortable and relaxed.

References:

  1. Turakitwanakan W, Mekseepralard C, Busarakumtragul P. Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students. J Med Assoc Thai. 2013;96 Suppl 1:S90-5.
  2. La cour P, Petersen M. Effects of mindfulness meditation on chronic pain: a randomized controlled trial. Pain Med. 2015;16(4):641-52.
  3. Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, et al. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357-68.
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