Mind-Body Therapies for Pain Management

Shantha Kalia

The American Pain Foundation estimates that more than 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.  The most common chronic pain syndromes are back pain, headache, and joint pain caused due to osteoarthritis.  Pain affects the person’s quality of life and is often associated with depression.

Is it possible that you will get relief from chronic pain by spending a few minutes every day to think, breathe, and divert your attention to your physical and mental state?  According to experts, age-old traditions and practices prove that mind has power over the body and may be effective in treating chronic pain.

How the Mind Controls Pain

Pain travels along the sensory pathway to transmit the physical sensation of pain and along the emotional pathway from the injury to regions of the brain, which process emotions.  Dr. Morone at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine says that we react physically to pain and in our subconscious, we have a negative emotional reaction to chronic pain.

Pain and stress are interrelated in a cyclical fashion, pain causes stress, which in turn increases the pain.  Using mind-body techniques to treat pain symptoms provides skills to cope with the pain, change in perception of pain, and a sense of increased relaxation.  Mind-body therapies include meditation, relaxation therapy, hypnosis, biofeedback, yoga, reiki, magnet therapy, etc.  Mind-body therapies constitute alternative medicine that is used to complement conventional medical interventions.

Mind-body therapies are the most widely used treatment modality in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and used by nearly 23% of adults in the United States.  Relaxation therapy is most widely used among all CAM therapies.

Individuals suffering from chronic pain are able to cope effectively using mind-body therapies because the physiological state that arises diminishes the pain and its emotional consequences.  Researchers suggest that physical experience of pain is largely unchanged but the cognitive component of suffering is vastly reduced.

Relaxation Therapy:
The commonly used relaxation therapies are deep breathing, meditation, and muscle relaxation.  Relaxation slows breathing, lowers the pulse and blood pressure, and reduces the body’s inflammatory response that has a positive impact on health and improves pain symptoms.

Meditation relieves pain by decreasing anxiety, stress, and depression.  Mindful meditation is used to treat various kinds of pain such as chest pain, abdominal pain, low back pain, neck pain, and headache.  It works on the principle of increased awareness and staying in the moment.

Visual Imagery:
Visual imagery is used to reduce pain by using imaginary sounds and pictures that induce relaxation.  The sounds used are of flowing water, musical instruments, etc.  Picture imagery uses nature that is soothing such as greenery in parks, a quiet river, a pond with ripples, etc.

Hypnosis relaxes the brain causing slow breathing as in meditation.  A National Institute of Health study found pain due to cancer could be alleviated with hypnosis.  Numerous studies have shown that hypnosis alleviates pain due to cancer, burns, and rheumatoid arthritis, and surgery.

Other forms of mind-body therapies widely in use for pain management are breathing techniques, yoga, massage, music therapy, reiki, etc.  Most of these therapies are used to treat pain in pediatric patients as well.

Sources for this article include:

  • www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20189613,00.html
  • www.healingchronicpain.org/content/introduction/conv_mndbdy.asp
  • annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=736834
  • www.emergence-mindfulness.com/massagearticles/mind%20body%20research.pdf
  • kythe.org/site/wp-content/themes/kythe/resources/pain-management-in-children.pdf
  • www.aafp.org/afp/2007/1115/p1518.html
About the Author: Shantha Kalia is a health care professional at a New York City hospital. She completed her masters in Public Health, and has worked in various capacities in health care for over 15 years. She is a freelancer and contributes articles to various websites on various medical and health-related topics. Her interests include health and wellness, diet and nutrition, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. To read more articles by Shantha, please visit HolisticCarePros.com.
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