Mindfulness and Chronic Pain, by Mary Ann Fornes, AMFT
Like so many others who suffer from chronic pain and related issues, it’s likely you’ve tried everything out there to address your pain and live a life free of pain. Appointments with specialists and one medication after another have cost you hundreds and thousands of dollars, often to no avail. The search for lasting pain relief can itself be an exhausting venture -- and can result in a general feeling of hopelessness.
On Sept 2008, The Journal of Pain published the findings of an 8-week clinical trial called the Mindfulness Meditation program where they reported immediate results that this approach is effective as a means of addressing and managing chronic pain. (Natalia E. Morone, 2008)
It’s important to note that proposing meditation as a method to manage your chronic pain is not an indication that your pain is imaginary, that your chronic suffering is something you’ve just thought up and can simply unthink. Quite the contrary. Many chronic pain sufferers become defensive at the notion of any Behavioral Health approach as a pain management tool, and inherently levy an asinine accusation.
But no, the purpose of mindfulness as an approach to pain management is based on the idea of changing the way in which you experience pain through focusing on the sensation from a reflective and accepting perspective. Learning to accept its presence when it’s there and appreciate its absence when it’s not, unpacks the pain experience and renders its power over your life null and void.
The power of meditation for pain management lies in targeted focal energy. Our knee-jerk reaction to any pain sensation is to do what we can to turn our attention away from the pain. Whether by seeking to medicate the discomfort or by looking toward external distractions, we generally seek to resist and focus on eliminating this pain with something, anything in an anxiety driven manner.
So it sounds counterintuitive then, to propose intentionally turning your focus toward the pain. But this is precisely what mindfulness meditation for chronic pain management entails: turning your attention inward to observe the pain for what it is.
The nature of the inward focus is key for this purpose. Rather than focusing on the pain with dread or fear or really any sort of connotation, mindfulness means simply taking note of your pain -- observing the sensation, where exactly it takes place in your body, and what kind of pain you are experiencing. As you continue to observe, introduce a gentle acceptance and compassionate perspective. In so doing, you enable yourself to cut through the abstract noise of pain and gain clarity to the nature of your experience.
As you continue to observe your pain without judgment, pay attention to your internal reaction. When you feel pain, do you feel panicked? Angry? Depressed? Hopeless? Learning to listen to your inner self in these moments will enable you to develop an awareness of your internal atmosphere and how you are responding. Once developed, that awareness will then empower you to alter the emotional aspect of your experience.
Here's the science of it. Stress and pain go hand and hand, which then leads to fatigue and strain on the body, along with personal challenges with family, finances, isolation and decreased activity. When we use a mindfulness approach such as meditation, the nervous system signals a relaxed and peaceful state. As a result, stress is reduced and so does physical pain. It sounds simple and easy, and yes it’s simple but it’s not as easy. Practice, be consistent and persistent, and it won’t take long before one feels some relief. Quiet the mind, quiet the body. Therein lies the power of meditation over your pain, and enable you to regain authority over your life.
Morone, Natalia E. “The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Older Adults With Chronic Pain: Qualitative Narrative Analysis of Diary Entries.” The Journal of Pain, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1526590008005440. Accessed on September 30, 2018.