Meditation can help with chronic pain and the anxiety and depression that often accompanies it. It isn't a cure-all that eliminates the need for medication, but it can help you manage your pain, and it may indeed reduce your need for medication.
"You have to be ready for meditation, and there's no one more ready than people who are suffering from pain," says Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, former executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Worcester, Mass. Some research and patient experience suggests that meditation may be particularly helpful to people who suffer from the following.
Chronic back pain
Many studies show that meditation not only relaxes the body and helps patients manage pain, but that it can also improve the brain's response to pain. A 2005 study at the Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, N.C., found that chronic back pain sufferers showed significant improvements in pain and psychological distress after practicing a form of meditation that focuses on releasing anger.
In 2007, researchers at the University of Basel Hospital, in Switzerland, concluded that mindfulness-based stress reduction helped fibromyalgia patients in several ways, including coping with pain, anxiety, and depression. A three-year follow-up found that patients who continued to use some form of mindfulness meditation kept seeing the benefits.
Jan Lewis Brandes, MD, assistant clinical professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, in Nashville, Tenn., and a specialist in migraine management, has seen many patients benefit from meditation and other relaxation techniques along with preventive medication for migraine. "Some people who have anxiety that triggers migraine can use meditation, yoga, and breathing techniques to avoid an attack," explains Dr. Brandes. "It can give them an edge that medication can't."
"Patients will finish a meditation or mindfulness-based stress-reduction program, and their pain may still be a six out of 10, but they sleep better, have better coping skills, and less depression and anxiety," says Robert Bonakdar, MD, director of pain management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego.