Chronic pain is a condition that can be debilitating, leaving its sufferers depressed, constantly in need of medication and struggling to cope. New research shows an effective, non-pharmaceutical alternative can be found through the practice of yoga and meditation.
The results of a study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association showed the overwhelming majority of participants in an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course experienced perceived benefits. A total of 89 percent of respondents said the course helped them find better ways to cope with their pain while the remaining 11 percent were neutral on the question.
The American Osteopathic Association estimates chronic pain affects upwards of 100 million people in the U.S. In addition to the perception of pain, the condition can lead to changes in mood and functional capacity. As part of the MSBR course the study participants received instruction in mindfulness meditation and mindful hatha yoga which they practiced during the eight weeks. The course also trained the people to have self-awareness in the present moment and a non-judgmental manner.
"Many people have lost hope because, in most cases, chronic pain will never fully resolve," says Cynthia Marske, DO, an osteopathic physician and director of graduate medical education at the Community Health Clinics of Benton and Linn County. "However, mindful yoga and meditation can help improve the structure and function of the body, which supports the process of healing."
Dr. Marske is careful to explain there is a difference between healing and curing.
"Curing means eliminating disease, while healing refers to becoming more whole," Dr. Marske says. "With chronic pain, healing involves learning to live with a level of pain this is manageable. For this, yoga and meditation can be very beneficial."
The participants reported a significant improvement in perceptions of pain, depression and disability through the practice of mindful meditation and yoga. In fact, the average depression score as measured by the Patient Heath Questionnaire (PHQ-9) dropped an average of 3.7 points on a 27-point scale.
"Chronic pain often goes hand-in-hand with depression," says Dr. Marske. "Mindfulness-based meditation and yoga can help restore both a patient's mental and physical health and can be effective alone or in combination with other treatments such as therapy and medication."
The findings encouraged researchers to conclude MBSR can be used as an option for those looking for relief from chronic pain and the associated depression symptoms.
"The bottom line is that patients are seeking new ways to cope with chronic pain and effective non-pharmaceutical treatments are available," says Dr. Marske. "Our findings show meditation and yoga can be a viable option for people seeking relief from chronic pain."