If you’re looking for alternatives to traditional pain therapies, we’ve got you covered. Because other pain therapies have limitations and side effects, meditation can be an inexpensive and non-invasive holistic approach to pain management. Many studies have shown evidence that meditation helps with chronic low back pain. Even the Arthritis Foundation recommends guided imagery to help manage pain. Are you ready to learn about how some of the various types of meditation may help you manage your back pain?
Types of Meditation
There are several types of meditation that may help relieve back pain. These include:
How Does Mindfulness Help Back Pain?
Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation activates multiple brain regions containing opioid receptors. Although the exact mechanism is unknown, it is thought that meditation may act on these receptors, inhibiting the sensation of pain much as a pain-killer like morphine or opium might.
Mindfulness for Chronic Pain
In a meta-analysis of 30 randomized controlled trials on chronic pain, mindfulness meditation “was associated with a small effect of improved pain symptoms.” In addition, it was shown to improve depression and both mental and physical quality of life.
Mindfulness and Pain Research
There have been many scientific studies on mindfulness meditation and pain relief. In 2016, the Journal of Neuroscience published a meta-analysis of studies performed on mindfulness and chronic pain. In that same year, the Journal of American Medical Association published a study demonstrating the effectiveness of Mindfulness-based stress reduction on low back pain.
If you’d like to see the specific studies used in the writing of this article, take a look at the references listed below.
Visualization and Guided Imagery
Here are some techniques that are used to help reduce the sensation of pain using visualization and guided imagery. These may also be considered a form of self-hypnosis. You’ll typically start in a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and focus on your breath.
Age regression. In this technique, you think of a time when you were free from pain. Visualize yourself, how you feel, speak, and act. Using suggestions, you move through the meditation with the idea that this is truly how you feel.
Altered focus. In this technique, you focus your mind on an area where you do not feel pain and use your mind to alter the sensation there in an effort to distract your mind from your pain.
Counting. Start with your pain at 10. As you count backward, imagine the pain becoming less with each number you count down.
Dissociation. In this technique, you use your mind to separate the painful part of your body from yourself. You might imagine it being outside of your body, or in another location altogether.
Mental anesthesia. This technique involves imagining yourself receiving a numbing ointment or topical solution being placed on the area of your body experiencing pain.
Pain transfer. In this technique, you will imagine a pleasant feeling, then transfer that feeling into the area where you’re experiencing pain.
Positive imagery. In this technique, you will imagine yourself to be in a pleasant place. The more detail you imagine, the better your experience will be.
Sensory splitting. In this technique, you take the pain and split it into different sensory experiences, focusing only on one at a time. For example, if you feel tingling with the pain, you would split the experience and only focus on the tingling, allowing the pain to recede.
Symbolic imagery. Use a symbol to represent your pain and gradually reduce the qualities of this image. For example, you might imagine a really bright light and a dimmer switch that allows you to gradually lower the light level with each breath you take.
Biofeedback is another holistic therapy that can be used to help reduce the experience of back pain. Biofeedback is a mind–body technique that teaches you how to modify your physiology, including your heart rate, respiration rate, skin surface temperature (at the fingertips), skin conductance, and heart rate variability. The benefits include improvements in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine concluded that biofeedback “can lead to improvements on various pain-related outcomes in the short and long terms, both as a standalone and as an adjunctive intervention.”
Other Holistic Therapies to Consider
In addition to meditation, you might consider some of the following therapies to help with your back pain:
Acupuncture for Back Pain
Chiropractic for Back Pain
Massage Therapy for Back Pain
Tai Chi for Back Pain
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Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Balderson BH, et al. Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Usual Care on Back Pain and Functional Limitations in Adults With Chronic Low Back PainA Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2016;315(12):1240–1249. Retrieved June 30, 2018 from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2504811#references-tab .
Elkins, G., Jensen, M. P., & Patterson, D. R. (2007). Hypnotherapy for the Management of Chronic Pain. The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 55(3), 275–287. Retrieved June 30, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752362/ .
European College of Neuropsychopharmacology. (2007, October 15). How does the opioid system control pain, reward and addictive behavior?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 30, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071014163647.htm .
Hilton, L., Hempel, S., Ewing, B. A., Apaydin, E., Xenakis, L., Newberry, S., … Maglione, M. A. (2017). Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 51(2), 199–213. Retrieved June 30, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5368208/ .
Patil, S. G. (2009). Effectiveness of mindfulness meditation (Vipassana) in the management of chronic low back pain. Indian Journal of Anaesthesia, 53(2), 158–163. Retrieved June 30, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2900099/ .
Sielski, R., Rief, W. & Glombiewski, J.A. Efficacy of Biofeedback in Chronic back Pain: a Meta-Analysis. Int.J. Behav. Med. (2017) 24: 25. Retrieved June 30, 2018 from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12529-016-9572-9 .
Zeidan, F., Adler-Neal, A. L., Wells, R. E., May, L. M., Eisenach, J. C., McHaffie, J. G., & Coghill, R. C. (2016). Mindfulness-Meditation-Based Pain Relief Is Not Mediated by Endogenous Opioids. Journal of Neuroscience,36(11), 3391-3397. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4328-15.2016. Retrieved June 30, 2018 from http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/11/3391.short.