For some people with chronic pain, mindful meditation is an appealing pain management option because it has an unusual benefit; it is something that you personally control. Unlike pain medications or medical procedures, meditation is not done to you, it is something you can do for yourself.
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That being said, not everyone has the time to become an expert in meditation techniques. However, one study has demonstrated that devoting even a minimal amount of time and effort to learning to meditate can have lasting analgesic effects.
The 3 insights of the study include:
- Minimal meditation substantially reduces pain
This study revealed that the participants' perception of pain was significantly reduced after just three 20-minute mindful meditation sessions, spread over three days. While many studies have demonstrated that the relaxed state of mind created during meditation produces analgesic benefits that can alter an individual's perception of pain, it was thought that these benefits were only available after extensive time and expertise in developing meditation.
The study findings are important because they show that meditation is much easier to use for pain management than it was previously believed to be; just a very short, simple course of training is all that is required in order to achieve a significant effect. For many, self-administered training might be effective.
- Meditation produces lasting results
One surprise finding from this study is that the participants who meditated had an overall lessening of pain even after the meditation—indicating that meditation produces a reduced perception of pain overall, not just during or around the time of the meditation. This is in contrast to one control group that was tested using distraction, which has some analgesic effect but only during the time of the distraction.
- Mindful meditation is more effective than distraction
During the study, the analgesic effects of meditation were also compared with relaxation techniques and distraction. While all 3 interventions lessened the participants' pain, the meditation was more effective in producing an overall analgesic effect—not just in addressing the most intense pain sensations.
There is a wide variety of meditation practices; some are complex and involve imagery and mantras, while others are simpler and focus on stillness and breathing. There is no right or wrong way to meditate, and it is believed that any sort of practice can be beneficial. It is encouraging to note that even a small investment of time in learning to meditate can bring pain relief.
- Zeidan F, Gordon NS, Merchant J, Goolkasian P. The effects of brief mindfulness meditation training on experimentally induced pain. J Pain. 2010;11(3):199-209.