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Meditation May Be Your Best Defense Against Pain (No, Really)

By Leah Groth ; Updated January 25, 2018

The next time physical pain causes you to reach for the bottle of painkillers, you may want to think about spending a few minutes in mindful meditation instead. New research suggests that to alleviate the symptoms and stresses of pain, meditation may be a better alternative to popping pills.

Researchers at Leeds Beckett School subjected 12 male and 12 female university-age students to pain, which involved first placing their hands in warm water for two minutes before removing them and placing them immediately into ice water until as long as the pain could be tolerated. Before participating in the pain task a second time, half of the participants meditated for 10 minutes, while the other half simply sat quietly. Researchers collected data analyzing participants’ anxiety toward pain, pain threshold, pain tolerance, pain intensity and pain unpleasantness.

The result? The meditation group had much less anxiety toward pain as well as a higher threshold and tolerance for it.

“While further research is needed to explore this in a more clinical setting on patients with chronic pain, these results do show that a brief mindfulness meditation intervention can be of benefit in pain relief,” says Dr. Osama Tashani, senior research fellow in pain studies. “The ease of application and cost-effectiveness of the mindfulness meditation may also make it a viable addition to the arsenal of therapies for pain management.”

Dr. Tashani also points out that one need not be a monk to meditate. “The mindfulness mediation was led by a researcher who was a novice. So, in theory, clinicians could administer this with little training needed,” he continues. “It’s based on traditional Buddhist teachings, which focuses attention and awareness on your breathing.”

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience came to a similar conclusion: Meditation reduces pain-related processing within the brain. And that’s not all. “In a nutshell, we found that mindfulness meditation does not engage the body’s opiate system … which could really help out with folks that are suffering from opiate addiction,” said lead researcher Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with meditation, there are many books and online tools to help you get a practice established. If you have some extra time you should think about taking a class (many yoga studios offer them daily). For pain sufferers, it’s certainly worth a try. Curing pain naturally can be a better option than having to pop a pill.

What Do YOU Think?

Have you tried meditation as a pain-relief method? Do you think it is as effective as pain medication? Should meditation be incorporated into medical treatment plans?

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