| One-Minute Clinician

Meditation More Powerful than Medication?

It’s pretty remarkable that mindfulness meditation can be more powerful than morphine.  Morphine has been shown to, on average, reduce chronic pain by about 25%. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to, on average, reduce chronic pain by about 40% and in some cases up to 93% with short-term and long-term benefits. It’s simply the act of bringing your awareness to what you’re actually experiencing in the present moment without judgment. We found that with mindfulness, patients with chronic pain and depression and anxiety are more able to differentiate between the physical sensations in the body and the thoughts about the sensations--the memories around pain or resentment around pain or anxiety. With people who cope with chronic pain by either feeling overwhelmed and anxious or who feel like they want to check out from their experience, who want to ignore or get away from their pain, we found that mindfulness is a great bridge to bring them back to the present moment, with nonjudgment. To think “What are the actual sensations that I’m experiencing right now?” or “What does this pain feel like?” and “Can I bring courage to be with it rather than to fight it or ignore it?” Over time, the more chronic pain patients do this, the more gray matter is actually grown in the prefrontal cortex, the stronger the thalamus is, and the insula, in helping to know which pain signals are worth paying attention to and to increase proprioception inside the body and also deactivate portions of the amygdala that decreases the emotional response to pain, which is often very harmful and actually increases pain. Neuroscience research is showing how important it is to increase cognitive function and decrease emotional responsiveness to pain and engage the patient into their real-life experience, bring courage to be with their pain and to remove the physical sensations from all of the anxiety and feelings of overwhelm around the pain.