Reducing Chronic Pain Through Yoga and Meditation


The number of people dealing with chronic pain is becoming more prevalent, with an estimated 80 percent of Americans experiencing chronic low-back pain in their lifetime, and 25 percent of Americans are currently experiencing it. And yet definitive treatment is lacking, as with other chronic pain conditions.

The steady increase in the prevalence of chronic pain along with the ongoing opioid crisis necessitates doctors and patients to become more interested in managing chronic pain conditions with non-pharmacological treatments. The tools of yoga, mindfulness, and meditation offer the potential to effectively help people cope with these conditions and improve their quality of life.

A growing body of research is demonstrating that yoga can be helpful for people with chronic low-back pain, particularly in reducing pain intensity and improving overall function and mobility. A study from The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course benefits patients with chronic pain and depression, significantly improving participant perceptions of pain, mood, and functional capacity.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction For Chronic Pain

Chronic pain (CP) is a common and serious medical condition affecting an estimated 100 million people in the United States. In the 1990s, opioids were increasingly prescribed to manage chronic pain, which contributed to the opioid epidemic of the 21st century. To address this epidemic, multidisciplinary approaches to chronic pain management are being researched and implemented, including mindfulness techniques, yoga, and meditation tools.

One of these strategies is Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a systematic educational program based on training people to be aware of the self in the present moment and nonjudgmental way through the intensive instruction of mindfulness meditation and mindful hatha yoga for 8 weeks.

The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association review evaluated the clinical effectiveness of the 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course in reducing depression and pain symptoms associated with chronic pain conditions.

The small-scale study took place in a semi-rural population in Oregon, where issues of affordability, addiction, and access to care are prevalent. For eight weeks, participants were given intensive instruction about mindfulness meditation and mindful hatha yoga.

The study aims to economically reduce pain, depression, anxiety, and stress associated with chronic conditions in semi-rural populations and provide autonomous and flexible management options.

The study’s researchers examined the combined benefit of MBSR on patients with chronic pain and depression and found that mindful meditation and yoga significantly improved patients’ perceptions of pain, depression, and disability. The study participants also had a 3.7 points drop in depression score on a 27-point scale, similar to a drop from the use of an antidepressant. The majority of the participants (89%) also reported that the program helped them find ways to cope better with their pain, while 11 percent remained neutral.

Since chronic pain often goes hand-in-hand with depression, the study’s findings suggest that mindfulness-based meditation and yoga can help restore and improve a patient’s mental and physical health.

The researchers state that most people suffering from chronic pain often lose hope as the said condition mostly never fully resolves. However, mindful yoga and meditation can help improve bodily structure and function, which supports the healing process for people with chronic pain conditions, allowing them to live with a manageable level of pain.

In conclusion, chronic pain is becoming a prevalent health issue affecting many people’s lives. Although there are chances that the condition cannot be fully resolved, new ways to cope with chronic pain and effective non-pharmaceutical treatments are becoming available such as yoga and meditation, which can help them alleviate their symptoms and manage to continue with their lives even with the condition.

Journal Reference

Marske, C., Shah, S., Chavira, A., Hedberg, C., Fullmer, R., Clark, C. J., Pipitone, O., & Kaiser, P. (2020). Mindfulness-based stress reduction in the management of chronic pain and its comorbid depression. Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, 120(9), 575–581.

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