Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief: Does it Work?
Summery of article-Does Mindfulness work for pain relief?
- Many people who find that Mindfulness Based Therapies or Interventions work for them want to share their knowledge so as to help others.
- It seems that those who found it did not work for them are silent. After all it would be difficult to sell a book or an article on something that showed no results.
- But the scientists and researchers are interested to know whether mindfulness works for everyone, and it seems from their results that the answer is no.
- Mindfulness Based Therapies or Interventions work spectacularly well for some, quite well for others and not at all for several people.
- It seems to depend largely on the mindset and attitude of the person at the time.
But I'm interested to know my readers' experience, opinions and comments.
Mindfulness for pain relief-what can we believe?
"Mindfulness meditation can reduce pain by between 57 and 90 percent, depending on how experienced or accomplished the meditator is and how often they practice the meditation at home" (1).
As a psychologist and mindfulness meditation tutor, I have come across several articles and studies on the use of mindfulness meditation for pain relief.
In this hub, I will bring you some of the information from books and articles relating to mindfulness as a tool in reducing pain.
By the end of the hub, I hope that you will be able to reach your own conclusion as to how effective mindfulness pain relief can be.
The argument for mindfulness for pain relief
There are several books and articles written on mindfulness meditation for pain relief. Some are written by medical and mental health professionals, others by those with a specific interest in mindfulness, and some by sufferers of chronic pain.
Some writers, as you will see below, span more than one of these categories.
As I can't possible mention all of the books and articles here, I will bring your attention to a small selection of them that I found particularly interesting.
This is not a review of the content of the books and articles as such, rather a review of the writers' interests, qualifications,experience and findings regarding mindfulness meditation for pain relief.
1. Mindfulness for Health: A practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing
This is a book written by Dr Danny Penman and Vidyamala Burch.
Dr Danny Penman is a highly qualified biochemist. However he works as journalist and feature writer, currently writing for the Daily Mail. He specialises in reporting on science and health matters, among others. Dr. Penman is also a sufferer of chronic pain following a paragliding accident.
Vudtanaka Burch is a sufferer of chronic pain following an accident in her teens. She is also a co- founder of Breathworks CIC, who's "mission is to bring mindfulness as a tool for reducing suffering to people worldwide".
Clearly these two authors believe deeply in Mindfulness Meditation as a tool for reducing pain, and reading the reviews of the book, it seems that many people agree with them.
These including professionals in pain management, such as
Lance M. McCracken,(2) PhD, Professor of Behavioural Medicine, King's College London
Liz Lobb,(3) Professor of Palliative Care, Sydney, Australia
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook
This is written by Elisha Goldstein Ph.D., Bob Stahl, PH.D., and Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD
Elisha Goldstein is a psychologist, psychotherapist and a huge believer in mindfulness. He has written several articles and blogs on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). You can see some of his guided mindfulness meditation videos here (4)
Bob Stahl works at Dominical Hospital, EL Camino Hospital and O’Connor Hospital in Santa Curz, CA, where he directs Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs.
Jon Kabat-Zinn has a Ph.D in molecular biology, and is arguably the voice of MBSR in the U.S. He is the author and co-author of countless books on mindfulness. His interests also lie in facilitating dialogue between western scientists and spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh.(5)
Natural Pain Relief: How to Soothe and Dissolve Physical Pain with Mindfulness
This is written by Shinzen Young,an American professor of Buddhist Studies from the University of Winconsin.
He has a particular interest in the dialogue between Western science and Eastern spiritual traditions.
Shinzen is also, obviously, very interested in the practice of mindfulness for pain management.
Mindfulness: Potent Medicine for Easing Physical Suffering
This is a blog written by Toni Bernhard, J.D., a former law professor at University of California at Davis we are told.(6)
Bernhard also co-ran a Buddhist meditation group for many years. The blog article appears on the Psychology Today website under the heading “turning straw into gold, Life through a Buddhist Lens”
Bernhard was forced to retire from her law practice due to illness and subsequently wrote several books and articles on mindfulness for the relief of pain and physical suffering.
What are the scientific researchers saying about mindfulness based therapy for pain?
This is not so much an argument against as a review of some of the scientific research articles on mindfulness based therapyfor pain relief.
I have chosen a few of the articles that I found particularly interesting and reviewed the conclusions they came to following the research:
Review of 13 studies on mindfulness based therapies
By Shaheen Lakhan and Kerry Schofield (7)
Lakhan and Schofield examined the results of thirteen studies on the effect of mindfulness on pain and the associated issues such as depression, anxiety and quality of life.
They found that some people had a huge improvement and some did not have any at all, but when all of the results were averaged out, it showed a “small to moderate” improvement overall.
They concluded that mindfulness based therapy on pain can work in some situations, but that further study is needed in this area for more conclusive results.
Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Physical Conditions: A Narrative Review Evaluating Levels of Evidence.
Carlson (8) reviewed the scientific literature on the effect of mindfulness based therapy for pain from conditions such as cancer, low back pain, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. He concluded that most improvements were psychological, some were physical, but that they did show significant benefit.
He also recommended further studies that take into account the patients’ characteristics and the time spent meditating.
An unbiased evaluation of mindfulness meditation
Do Mindfulness-Based Interventions Reduce Pain Intensity? A Critical Review of the Literature.
By K. Reiner, L. Tibi and J.D. Lipsitz (9)
This is yet another literature review of a number of studies that were carried out on the use of mindfulness based therapy for pain relief. Reiner, Tibi and Lipsitz took 24 studies in total and examined their results.
They found that mindfulness based Interventions or therapies did reduce the intensity of pain in the majority of studies examined. However, the authors only included studies that provided detailed results on changes in pain intensity, so in a way they were cherry picking those studies that showed significant results.
Mindfulness and chronic low back pain
By E. Cassidy, R. Atherton, N. Robertson, D. Walsh and R. Gillett (10)
This was a study carried out by the authors of the article on patients who were attending a pain management clinic for chronic low back pain. They asked the patients to fill out questionnaires over a three month time frame on how and when they used mindfulness for pain management.
Cassidy et al also examined the patients attitudes, fears and anxieties towards pain, and their levels of disability, anxiety and depression.
The authors found that the patients who practiced mindfulness managed their pain more successfully than those who did not.
They also found that a more positive attitude was often expressed by the people involved in mindfulness based therapy, along with lower levels of disability, anxiety and depression.
Do you think mindfulness works for pain relief?
So now you have some of the arguments and information for and against the efficacy of mindfulness in pain management.
We can see that mindfulness most definitely works well for many people, and often they want to share the experience in the hope that others will also be helped.
But it also seems that mindfulness does not work for everyone. Perhaps the difference is in the mindset and attitude of the people at the time, towards mindfulness and towards their pain.
I would be interested in readers’ comments, opinions and experiences of mindfulness in pain management.
What is your experience?
If you HAVE tried any mindfulness based intervention or therapy for pain relief, did it help?
What is your opinion?
If you HAVE NOT used mindfulness based therapy or intervention for pain relief, would you consider doing so having read this hub?
References and links
(7) Lakhan, S. E., & Schofield, K. L. (2013). Mindfulness-Based Therapies in the Treatment of Somatization Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Plos ONE, 8(8), 1-13. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071834
(8) Carlson, L. E. (2012). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Physical Conditions: A Narrative Review Evaluating Levels of Evidence. ISRN Psychiatry, 1-21. doi:10.5402/2012/651583
(9) Reiner, K., Tibi, L., & Lipsitz, J. D. (2013). Do Mindfulness-Based Interventions Reduce Pain Intensity? A Critical Review of the Literature. Pain Medicine, 14(2), 230-242.
(10) Cassidy, E., Atherton, R., Robertson, N., Walsh, D., & Gillett, R. (2012). Mindfulness, functioning and catastrophizing after multidisciplinary pain management for chronic low back pain. Pain (03043959), 153(3), 644-650. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2011.11.027