If you suffer from chronic pain or illness, you know it can be intolerable. There is a real and measurable physical and mental toll of being constantly uncomfortable in your own skin. What’s more, rest and medication can only do so much to treat or cure your suffering. In fact, many doctors and health care professionals are beginning to see how mindfulness meditation can be an effective complement for, or even an alternative to, prescription medication.
Classic Treatments for Chronic Pain and Illness
It’s no secret that a good diet, moderate exercise, and rest are recommended by doctors as preventative measures against health-related maladies. In fact, when you suffer from chronic pain or illness, these are the first things to implement when starting a treatment plan. Quite often, a compliment to these recommendations is either short- or long-term prescription for opioid-based pain killers.
According to the CDC, 11.2% of the US adult population suffers from chronic pain. What’s more, 3-4% of America is prescribed long-term opioid therapy for various ailments such as arthritis, migraine, MS, fibromyalgia, back problems, side effects of cancer treatment, and more.
However, according to the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, prescription opioid medication presents serious medical and social risks to patients. Medical professionals are now seeing these major negative points:
- – These medicines can pose a significant financial burden for patients who use or depend on them for relief.
- – It’s estimated that, in 2013 alone, 1.9 million people abused or were dependent on prescription opioid pain medications.
- – 165,000 people died of overdose related to opioid pain medication from 1999-2014.
In 2014, the DEA even reclassified hydrocodone, a popularly prescribed opioid, from a Class III to a Class II substance because of its high risk for misuse and abuse. DEA admin Michele Leonhart declared of the change, “Today’s action recognizes that these products are some of the most addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications available.”
Due to the risks outweighing the benefits in most prescription pain killer scenarios, the CDC is recommending new approaches to treatment of chronic pain:
- – Improving safety and effectiveness and reducing the risks of long-term opioid therapy
- – Giving patients the lowest effective dosage
- – Carefully weighing the risks and benefits when considering increasing dosages
- – The preferred treatment for chronic pain is non-opioid therapy
Pain Meds vs. Mindfulness Meditation
Here is where we believe mindfulness meditation comes in. While pain killers engage pain on a molecular level by bypassing opioid receptors in the brain, studies have shown that placebos, attention control (such as is practiced in meditation) and conditioned pain modulation can all affect these same receptors as well. In some cases, mindfulness practices have been shown to have a more powerful analgesic effect than other methods.
Mindfulness meditation has been shown in clinical trials to reduce chronic pain by as much as 57%. Accomplished meditators can reduce it by over 90%. Mindfulness meditation soothes brain patterns underlying pain. Over time, this practice actually changes the basic function and structure of the brain so it deals with suffering in a different way.
This is powerful evidence that a consistent meditation practice can be a powerful tool in combatting chronic ailments and their side effects. Let’s look at the science.
Primary vs. Secondary Pain
Medical professionals are now working with a concept regarding primary and secondary pain:
- – Primary pain is the suffering that results directly from the illness or injury.
- – Secondary pain is the mind’s reaction to primary pain, but can be more intense and longer-lasting.
This means that your brain has the ability to not only feel the pain, but to analyze the pain and figure out how to stop the suffering and prevent this type of misery in the future. In short, this kind of rumination can intensify the way you experience the pain and make it last longer.
Brain scans tell us that the brains of people who suffer chronic pain develop more areas dedicated to pain, basically turning up the “volume” on the experience of discomfort and suffering. To make things worse, your brain remembers these sensations and creates a cycle of fear, stress, tension and suffering that can be hard to overcome.
Also, it’s no secret that stress can weaken your immune system, which can lead to more illness and more discomfort. All this culminates in a more intensified experience of suffering because your mind is primed and ready to be in pain.
Mindfulness Meditation and Your Brain
Exploring the sensation of pain can be the last thing you want to do when all you can focus on is the discomfort and how much you want it to stop. However, this could actually be the answer to relieving your symptoms and finding peace within the pain.
Mindfulness meditation involves a process of observing sensations and how your body and mind react to them. Eventually, after paying close attention to struggles, your brain learns how to let go of them.
Mindfulness meditation essentially gives you the tools to stop a pain cycle in its tracks. Your brain recognizes the cycle, and then you can take mindful steps to short-circuit it and “turn down the volume” or even stop your suffering altogether.
Furthermore, mindfulness meditation has been proven to soothe stress and anxiety, therefore strengthening your immune system and your ability to relax and eventually heal.
Other chronic ailments or symptoms that mindfulness meditation can improve or heal:
- – depression
- – exhaustion
- – irritability
- – concentration and memory
- – lack of energy
- – decreased libido
- – chest pains
- – high blood pressure
- – insomnia
- – indigestion
An Effective Alternative
The mind and body are more connected than we know. Mindfulness meditation has been proven to have a positive impact on the brain, and therefore the body and its physical ailments. While pain pills are designed to interrupt communication between your brain and pain, mindfulness meditation does just this, and then some.
So don’t put it off- even a few 10-20 minute sessions can begin to produce real results for you in your battle against chronic pain and illness. Contact us today so we can help you on your path toward freedom!