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How Meditation Helps with Chronic Pain Management

Happy senior woman talking to her doctor

Meditation is often recommended as an antidote for stress, but many experts also advocate meditation for chronic pain management.

 Chronic pain, unlike the acute pain typically associated with an injury, is persistent, relentless, intense, and often difficult—if not impossible—to control. Chronic pain may be the long-term result of an injury, but it’s also often associated with conditions like arthritis or other sources of joint pain. Chronic back pain, which affects more than half of seniors over 65, is also quite common and can be the result of injury, long-term stress, osteoporosis, spinal disk abnormalities, and factors like lack of exercise.

 An estimated 50.2 million Americans (about 1 in 5 adults) have a chronic pain condition, and chronic pain is among the leading reasons people seek medical care. It limits activity, contributes to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, and can result in dependence on narcotic prescriptions.

 In fact, chronic pain can work as a vicious cycle of sorts. The pain causes stress, which triggers stress hormones, which lead to inflammation that exacerbates aches and soreness. Treatments such as meditation for chronic pain can result in less discomfort and a better quality of life.

 

How does meditation affect pain?

While it won’t address the physical causes of pain, meditation can affect the way your brain registers the discomfort. Unlike other treatments or therapies that block or reduce the pain, meditation for chronic pain involves embracing the pain and working with it rather than against it.

 Less physical pain

In one study, subjects using mindfulness as a form of meditation showed less activity in the parts of the brain that process pain. In a separate study focused on older adults with persistent back pain, those who practiced meditation for seniors reported significantly less pain after two months than those who engaged in a health education program for the same time period (80% reduction vs. 37%).

 Improved mental health

People experiencing pain commonly worry or have negative thoughts about their pain, which can contribute to negative moods and increase pain. Meditation encourages stress reduction, relaxation, breathing, and acceptance of the body as it is, which can play a role in reducing anxiety or depression connected to pain. Instead of releasing stress hormones, meditation can stimulate feel-good endorphins, which act as natural pain relievers.

 Lower reliance on medication

The same researchers who studied meditation’s impact on brain activity found that, in some cases, chronic pain sufferers have been able to reduce or eliminate medication treatment by practicing daily mindfulness or meditation for chronic pain. This finding has been affirmed by multiple studies, including a 2019 meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine that found mind-body therapies including meditation show some reductions in opioid use.

 Better sleep

Your resting hours are when your body rejuvenates and heals itself. That’s why adequate sleep is so important for your overall well-being. Through meditation, you can achieve a level of relaxation that allows you to get to sleep more easily. While this may not address your pain directly, depending on its root cause, it will help in other areas of your life so you’re more mentally and physically able to handle the challenges of chronic pain.

 

Make meditation a regular practice

Once you’re well-versed in meditation and mindfulness exercises, you may be comfortable meditating virtually anywhere, including the comfort of your own home. However, especially if you’re new to the practice, regularly attending classes can help you brush up on techniques while connecting with other like-minded people who believe in the power of mindful healing. What’s more, a trained meditation guide can help you achieve more effective sessions and results based on your personal goals.

 At Stonebridge at Montgomery, our residents enjoy regular access to meditation classes through our LivWell wellness program. Participants learn the best meditation for chronic pain, managing stress, and other aspects of their physical and mental well-being. Contact us to learn more about LivWell and the other activities that allow residents to enjoy their retirement to the fullest.