Mindfulness-Based Training Aids in Chronic Pain Reduction

It is estimated that one out of every three people suffers from some form of chronic pain. Therapies that involve training of the mind are believed to improve the quality of life in patients who suffer from long-term pain. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is one such mind-body medication. In the present study, the researchers evaluated the utility of mindfulness-based stress reduction in improving the quality of life and in reducing psychological distress in patients suffering from chronic pain. The results showed that mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques are effective in most of the conditions of chronic pain.

Disorders such as arthritis, migraines and backache, which cause chronic pain, are known to decrease the quality of life and also induce psychological distress. Even the present-day painkillers fail to provide relief to many of the patients suffering from such disorders. This is because sensations of pain involve various psychological factors. Although many studies have shown that mind-body medication is useful in reducing pain, only 20 percent of patients use this form of therapy. This study was done to compare the well-being of patients before and after treatment with mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques. Mindfulness meditation involves training the mind in paying attention to activities on a moment-to-moment basis. The researchers also examined to what extent meditation at home helps in relieving the symptoms of pain.

* This study involved 133 participants who were suffering from some form of chronic pain. Their quality of life and psychological distress were assessed at the beginning of the study and then after eight weeks of treatment with mindfulness-based stress reduction meditation.
* The quality of life was measured using a questionnaire in which physical function, bodily pain, personal health perception, fatigue, limitations due to pain, mental health condition, social functioning, and limitations due to emotional problems were assessed. Psychological distress was measured also using a questionnaire.
* The effect of mindfulness meditation practice at home was also analyzed.

* The most common painful condition among participants was back and neck pain. Other disorders include arthritis, migraine, and fibromyalgia. There was a considerably low quality of life and significant psychological distress in most of the participants before the use of mindfulness meditation.
* Overall, mindfulness meditation was useful in improving the quality of life and in reducing psychological distress.
* The patients who had reported pains due to arthritis showed a significant improvement after mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy. For patients with fibromyalgia and migraine, this improvement was seen in three and two subscales, respectively.
* Greater involvement in mindfulness meditation at home had significant beneficial effects.

Shortcomings/Next steps
In the present study, all the participants were suffering from some form of pain. There is a need to include a control population that did not suffer from pain, to validate the findings of the present study. The sample size of the present study was very small. Moreover, most of the participants were Caucasian women. Hence, the findings of this study cannot be generalized.

The authors of this study conclude that mindfulness-based stress reduction practices induce changes in the physical and psychological variables that are helpful for patients with chronic and debilitating pain. However, the efficacy of each mindfulness-based stress reduction program may vary with the type of disorder. According to the researchers, mindfulness meditation probably reduces the perception of pain in some parts of the brain such as the anterior cingulated cortex and amygdala. Other mind-body medications such as yoga are also found to be beneficial in reducing body pain. There is a need to utilize the efficacy of such mind-body medications in routine clinical practice for the treatment of chronic pain disorders.

For More Information:
Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction for Chronic Pain Conditions: Variation in Treatment Outcomes and Role of Home Meditation Practice
Publication Journal: Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2010
By Steven Rosenzweig; Jeffrey M. Greeson; Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina

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