While meditation is practised to calm the mind, a new study has found that the technique of “quietening the mind” could be used by some to help alleviate pain.
Training the brain to respond differently to pain signals may be an effective pain relief tool, the authors said.
The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, saw researchers compare mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy – a type of talk therapy – and usual care for back pain.
Researchers, from the Group Health Research Institute in Washington state in the United States, examined a specific kind of meditation called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). They found MBSR, which involves observing, acknowledging, and accepting thoughts and feelings including pain and some simple yoga poses, led to “meaningful improvements”.
They also found improvements among participants who received cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The therapy, which has previously proven effective for back pain, can help people “reframe” how they think about pain so that they can manage it more successfully, the authors said.
The trial, involving 342 patients aged 20 to 70 with chronic back pain, saw participants divided into three groups – one group was told to continue with their usual care for their pain, another group was given cognitive behavioural therapy, and the others were trained in MBSR.
Compared to the group receiving usual care, participants who received talk therapy or mindfulness training were significantly more likely to experience improvements in “functional limitations” and in how much the back pain bothered them.
They found that after six months, 61 per cent of patients who received MBSR and 58 per cent of those who had CBT showed improvements on their “functional limitations” compared to 44 per cent of those in the usual care group.