With Physiotherapist Chris Davies
Mindfulness is somewhat of a buzz word these days. We typically associate it with a sense of being calm and less reactive to external events. Although it sounds like a nice concept it is often tricky to impellent. It is defined as the ability to pay attention to the present moment without judgement, which really means to see things as they are without trying to change them. Research has consistently demonstrated its beneficial effects for condition such as chronic illness and mental health. More recently there has been a push towards using mindfulness meditation for the treatment of chronic pain. Studies published have shown a moderate reduction in pain intensity and more importantly the unpleasantness of pain (1-4).
When we are in pain, our natural reaction is to do whatever we can to make the pain go away. This is useful in the acute setting whereby we need to look after the damaged area and seek help. However as pain persists, this same aversive response can become unhelpful and often results in a strengthened pain response. Emotions that result from wanting the pain gone and trying to control the pain such as frustration, anger, helplessness, and anxiety involve a release of chemicals in our brains, which help further sensitise the pain system. These emotions can also lead to unhelpful coping behaviours such as rubbing the painful area, being more guarded and protective when moving and reducing ones physical activity, which also have a negative effect on one’s pain.
So how can the practice of mindfulness meditation and being mindful help with pain? Mindfulness is not something that will make it possible to think your pain away or distract yourself from the pain. Rather, the aim is quite counterintuitive and involves exploring the pain and the associated unpleasant feelings with curiosity. The key is to experience the pain as it is, but also observe the thoughts and story surrounding the pain and the current situation. These thoughts are almost always naturally negative such as “Why am I still in pain?” “When will it stop?” “Why can’t someone figure this out?” Mindfulness meditation puts distance between the pain and the associated suffering it causes. Suffering is a huge pain of the pain experience and one which can be modified with practicing mindfulness.
Reducing the emotional and behavioural response to pain has been shown lead to a reduction in pain unpleasantness and intensity (5), however, it is vital to understand that if the main goal of starting a mindfulness practice is to reduce the pain, then the constant seeking and trying to achieve a lower pain state can often create more frustration and anxiety. Rather, a more helpful goal is to cultivate and improve our response and relationship to the pain. If this is cultivated in a healthy way, pain levels can reduce as a bi-product of allowing a more flexible approach to improve ones control over their pain.
Join Chris for his Chronic Pain management workshop.
Know Pain Know Gain
Saturday March 17th
A FREE session.
Chris is in clinic Tuesdays and Saturdays by appointment.
- Reiner K, Tibi L, Lipsitz JD (2011) Do mindfulness-based interventions reduce pain intensity? A critical review of the literature. Pain medicine; 14(2): 230 42.
- Veehof MM, Oskam MJ, Schreurs KM, Bohlmeijer ET (2011) Acceptance-based interventions for the treatment of chronic pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Pain; 152(3): 533-42.
- Chiesa A, Serretti A. (2011) Mindfulness-based interventions for chronic pain: a systematic review of the evidence. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine; 17(1): 83-93.
- Bawa FL, Mercer SW, Atherton RJ, et al (2015) Does mindfulness improve outcomes in patients with chronic pain? Systematic review and meta-analysis. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners; 65(635): e387-400.
- Zeidan F, Nichole M, Emerson S et al (2015) Mindfulness meditation-based pain relief employs different neural mechanisms than placebo and sham mindfulness Meditation induced analgesia. Journal of Neuroscience. 35(46) 15307-25