Treating Chronic Pain with Mind-Body Medicine

Chronic pain, defined as pain lasting longer than 3 months, can be treated with mind-body treatments including, but not limited to meditation, acupuncture, biofeedback, diet, and exercise.

What is Mind-Body Medicine?

Mind-body treatments draw on the relationship between the mind, body, and behavior. In some cases, these treatments may be the main source of pain relief; other times, they are a helpful supplement to conventional treatments, such as pain medications.

Mind-body medicine may be used in integrative, complimentary, and alternative medicine approaches. Complementary and alternative medicine is often referred to by the acronym CAM.


Benefits to Mind-body Treatments for Chronic Pain

People are more likely to report worse pain if they are stressed, depressed, or afraid that the pain may be due to a life-threatening condition. There are several potential benefits to non-mainstream techniques for chronic pain.

  • Changed thinking. Many mind-body treatments are designed to change thinking to focus attention away from the pain and enhance relaxation.
  • Increased control and empowerment. Successful alternative techniques can give a person a feeling of power over chronic pain.
  • Improved daily functioning. Being relaxed and feeling in control can reduce the perception of pain and improve daily living.

Because chronic pain and depression share similar pathways in the brain and sometimes coexist, treatments designed to heal both mind and body may be helpful. Mind-body therapies can be taught by a therapist in a class or one-on-one. They are also widely available in smart phone apps or online.

This article provides an overview of pain’s impact on the brain and several common mind-body practices.

Chronic Pain's Impact on the Brain

Interest in complementary treatments has increased amid growing awareness of how chronic pain affects the brain.

Medical literature has shown that chronic pain can affect:

  • Cognitive ability
  • Memory
  • Emotions

These changes can alter the body’s ability to control pain and add to the risk of anxiety and depression.

Research on complementary techniques and treatments has not been extensive, especially when compared to research into medication effectiveness. On the other hand, there is little risk in trying these practices to see whether they are helpful.