The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can Mindfulness Help You Manage Chronic Pain?

Cognitive behavioral therapy and mindulness meditation can help people manage chronic pain without adding additional drugs.

People in chronic pain often feel abandoned by the medical profession,  especially as physicians are cutting back on prescribing opioids. They may be interested in some nondrug approaches that could help them manage chronic pain better.

Mindfulness May Help People Manage Chronic Pain:

A study suggests that mindfulness meditation can help people cope much better with their pain (Khoo et al, Evidence Based Mental Health
, Jan. 31, 2019). The researchers reviewed 13 trials of cognitive behavioral therapy compared to control. They also analyzed seven studies of mindfulness-based stress reduction for pain management. In addition, one trial compared mindfulness-based stress reduction to cognitive behavioral therapy as well as to control. Altogether, more than 1,900 volunteers participated in these clinical trials.

How Well Do These Non-Drug Approaches Work to Manage Chronic Pain?

The investigators found that both techniques had comparable effects on reducing pain intensity and psychological distress. Participants also experienced similar improvement in physical functioning with cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction. The authors suggest that they need further research to help determine who might benefit most from one or the other of these treatments.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help People Manage Chronic Pain:

An earlier study indicated that cognitive behavioral therapy can help alleviate chronic low back pain (The Lancet, Feb. 26, 2010). The researchers randomly assigned 700 people with bothersome low back pain to standard care or to standard care plus cognitive behavioral therapy. The group on cognitive behavioral therapy started with one individual session. Six group sessions followed.

After a year, 60 percent of those who had gotten the counseling had recovered. This compares to 30 percent in the group receiving only ordinary care, such as advice and pain medicine. The investigators judged cognitive behavioral therapy to be cost-effective. That makes it one of the few treatments to manage chronic pain in the lower back.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I can recommend pain management treatment which uses cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, diet, and physical therapy from personal experience. I was fortunate to be admitted to University of Texas Southwestern Medical School’s pain management clinic several years ago. The treatment I received there was “cutting edge” in 2001 and transformed my life and lifestyle. The pain management center there offered comprehensive care all in one building. A case manager took care of all my appointments to make scheduling as easy and convenient as possible. When I entered the program, I was taking 30 mg. of oxycontin in the morning and in the evening. One year later, I had tapered off all the pain and anxiety meds and managed my pain with the skills I learned.

Chronic back pain can almost always be mitigated by good chiropractic care. CBD oil is amazing for managing pain too.

Mindfulness and living in the moment do NOT take pain away from everyone. I liken it to the Quinoa and Kale fad. “Mindfulness” is the new psychobabble for the 21st century. Many patients are in exquisite pain, and in the area where I live, ‘Holistic’ treatments are a patient’s only option. I don’t advocate taking Opioids, but as a patient who’s in chronic pain, I will not take Cymbalta, Lyrica or Gababentin to quell my organic, not psychiatric pain, and have tried every Holistic approach with zero positive effects.

I have a shoulder joint that no longer works (osteoarthritis and bone spurs). I have exercise routines that keep me from feeling any pain. About every 3-6 months, I will have trouble sleeping. I’ve found that a good Reiki session resets my brain. The pain is gone for another 3-6 months. (Usually 6 unless I do something dumb.) I’m 69 years old and otherwise in great shape.

At age 70, exercise is very important for me to ward off daily stiffness. I have a regimen of exercise that I do on most days. I think that the regimen itself is a kind of mental discipline, which may contribute to the efficacy. Walking outside, being in nature, also provides a mental boost.

Last spring I completed a 13 week course in Mindfulness-Based Chronic Pain Management. It was one of the best programs I have ever invested my time in. Where as prior to taking course, I allowed my chronic pain to control me, I learned how to mindfully control my chronic pain and learned to manage it. I now rarely have to take any medications for pain, I’ve learned gratitude and daily practice is the key. This course was designed by Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix thru NeuroNova Centre for Mindful Solutions Inc. I highly recommend it to others.

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