We’ve all experienced pain in our lives, but what happens when the pain won’t go away? Having pain for months or years at a time (chronic pain) is a problem that 10-30% of the population will experience. So what do you do when you’ve tried everything to get rid of your pain and it’s still there? Recent evidence suggests that treating the brain is the way to go!
Your Brain and Chronic Pain
When you grab a cup of coffee, open a drawer, or itch your nose, sensors in your skin and muscles send information to your spinal cord and eventually, up to your brain. Your brain interprets this information as temperature, pressure, or even pain. When you get hurt, the sensors around the injured area become over-active, causing you to feel pain more easily in order to protect the area from further damage. In cases where pain continues for months or years, cells in the spinal cord and even the brain can become over-active just like the sensors in your body. This can cause the brain to interpret pain from normal feelings such as pressure or temperature that are not actually causing any harm.
What Can You do About Chronic Pain?
Sometimes, having chronic pain can leave you feeling helpless, but did you know that practicing meditation and mindfulness has actually been shown to help with chronic pain? Mindfulness is defined as an intentional and non-judgmental present moment awareness, and it can actually change the way your mind interprets pain!
How Does Mindfulness Reduce Pain?
When you practice mindfulness on a regular basis, your brain changes even when you are not actively meditating. Research shows that people who meditate regularly show less anticipation of painful feelings, which makes the pain less unpleasant when it is actually experienced. It also allows you to control your emotional reaction to pain, leading to less pain overall.
How to use Mindfulness for Pain Relief
If you’re looking for a way to try out mindfulness on your own, there are several apps available for apple and android devices that will introduce you to meditation. We recommend trying Headspace or Omvana to get yourself started!
Mindfulness and Physiotherapy
Remember that, while mindfulness will help control pain, it does not address the root cause of the pain in the body. It is best to combine meditation with other treatments such as physiotherapy or massage therapy. Therapists may use techniques such as:
- Stretching and strengthening
- IFC or TENS
- Deep tissue massage
- Diaphragmatic breathing
If you’re experiencing chronic pain, our clinicians are here to help. Book an appointment with a qualified physiotherapist to get a full assessment and treatment plan in place– no doctor referral needed!*
About the Author
Amanda is a 1st-year physiotherapy student at McMaster University. When she’s not busy interning here at pt Health, Amanda enjoys rock-climbing and hiking Hamilton’s many trails.
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Veehof, M. M., Oskam, M. J., Schreurs, K. M., & Bohlmeijer, E. T. (2011). Acceptance-based interventions for the treatment of chronic pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PAIN®, 152(3), 533-542.
Zeidan, F., Grant, J. A., Brown, C. A., McHaffie, J. G., & Coghill, R. C. (2012). Mindfulness meditation-related pain relief: evidence for unique brain mechanisms in the regulation of pain. Neuroscience letters, 520(2), 165-173.
*A doctor referral may be required to access your third party insurance