Does Mindfulness Really Help for Chronic Pain?


If you have been in chronic pain for some time, you have probably been sent on a chronic pain course through your doctor or have leaned on support groups for help.  It’s likely you have also heard about how mindfulness can work to ease your suffering but for most people it’s a very difficult concept to understand let alone put into practice.

Countless studies have proven that mindfulness is a very effective technique for reducing stress, anxiety and pain, even chronic pain, so why is it, that so few people are able to utilize this tool correctly?  Why are people so resistant to the idea of meditation and especially mindfulness?

We have interviewed countless chronic pain patients and we find that most have at least heard of mindfulness and it’s common to find two different types of people among them:

There are those who have successfully used mindfulness practices and swear by its efficacy and those who think it’s a load of rubbish and has never or could never work for them.

So where is the disconnect?

For a start many of these courses and programs do not adequately explain what mindfulness is or what it can do to alleviate chronic pain. The last thing people who are suffering with debilitating pain want to hear is that it is ‘’in their minds’’ or that their pain levels can be controlled or reduced simply by doing meditations.

Most people have a very real physical problem that is the cause of their pain, so the bizarre idea that much of their pain can be controlled through the ‘’power of their minds’’ seems utterly absurd. Another very common problem is patients are told to accept their pain and often no living creature should have to ‘’accept’’ living under those harsh conditions and people naturally and rightly resist.

Perhaps if it was explained correctly, people would understand the concept of mindfulness and be equipped to try it without reservations and judgements.  What have you got to lose?

We will do our best to fill in some of the blanks…

Firstly, mindfulness will not necessarily take away your pain. It is not a magic bullet that works after a few tries and poof the pain is gone. Here is where it gets tricky though, it can potentially take away your pain or reduce it significantly over time. This is a key difference and important to realize as you try and understand the mechanics of how pain works at least in laymen terms.

So what does mindfulness focus on?

A lot of the focus of mindfulness is exactly that, being mindful of what happens within your body and focusing on that. So why would you WANT to focus on the pain when most of the time you would do anything to keep yourself distracted from it and try to ignore it as much as possible?

It seems counter intuitive but by actually focusing on the pain, you are doing a few things:

– The first is that you are noticing that your pain is not actually the brick wall you probably often think of it as. In fact, like your thoughts, your pain and other physical sensations are fluid, constantly moving, ebbing and flowing. Even if it is all pain sensations, the sensations themselves are different, not solid and static.

– This one is important; you are ceasing to resist the pain. You are letting it flow through you and making mental notes of how it feels. There is a term amongst mindfulness practitioners that rings true and that is ‘’what you resist, persists’’.  Resisting pain is the most natural response to constant pain but it doesn’t help with either the pain itself or the secondary suffering.

– Potentially the most beneficial element to the mindfulness meditation practice is stopping the secondary suffering in its tracks.  Much of the misery from chronic pain is not from the pain itself but rather the anxiety, stress, insomnia and depression that can come with it. It’s almost inevitable that you will experience secondary suffering if you have been in chronic pain for some time. How could you not? Mindfulness however can reduce a lot of the secondary suffering, much of which is needless and is an additional burden.

– If you have been in pain for some time, the neural pathways in the brain and central nervous system may have been altered. Considering that constant pain is like your nervous system being in a constant state of high alert it’s not hard to imagine how significant some of these changes can be. Mindfulness is a way to re-train the brain to work in your favor. If you think about pain being an essential evolutionary response to physical danger it is certainly useful but in many cases of chronic pain, the alarm system has triggered and refuses to switch off. By practicing mindfulness regularly and allowing yourself to focus on the pain, you are effectively telling your brain that you are aware of the problem. This can and often does actually turn the volume down on your original pain.

– Another benefit of mindfulness is practicing the ability to live in the moment. There is an old adage that says ‘’if you are living in the past you are depressed, if you are living in the future you are anxious, if you are living in the now, that is your only chance to be happy’’. While this may sound grand, pain makes it very difficult to live in the present moment because most of the times we want to escape from the moment we are living through. Mindfulness allows us more scope for appreciating moments. Perhaps it’s a moment of respite which feels heavenly, maybe the pain sensations have morphed into something more bearable, it does not matter what is different only that your perspective on it is different. This is a real quality of life skill and an important benefit.

There is a book which actually includes guided meditations as well as an eight week program. It will take you 20 minutes a day, 10 in the morning and 10 in the evening.  It explains the concept far better than we could and helps you to effortlessly apply the practice to your life.

Our goal here is simply to clear up some of the misconceptions around mindfulness so that you too can potentially benefit from what both anecdotal as well as scientific research has proven. Often mindfulness can be as effective as morphine, so why wouldn’t you want to tap into something that is safe, healing, reduces pain and anxiety and you can do as often as you need to no matter where you are or who you are with.

Click Here to buy the Mindfulness for Health Book. There are many courses on the subject of mindfulness but we feel this one explains it so much better than most, was written by chronic pain sufferers and has an easy to follow, week by week meditation course. You don’t even need to read the entire book in one sitting, many people prefer to read one chapter a week and then do the mindfulness exercises for that week before moving onto the next chapter.

We understand that there is a good chance you would want to punch the person who says ‘’it’s all in your mind’’. We hope you don’t feel that way about us, we are simply saying that you have more power over your pain than you may realize and that does start with the mind. That does not mean we are taking anything away from the physical causes or the VERY REAL pain you may be experiencing.  We simply would like you to see for yourself how mindfulness can help you in your everyday life by understanding what it can and can’t do for you. Before you dismiss it to the trash heap of things that haven’t worked, give that book a read and do the meditations for 8 weeks. You are likely to be pleasantly surprised with the results. It may not take away your pain but it could certainly lower the intensity and give you more power over your life and your condition.

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