How Meditation Might Help Chronic Pain

Small pilot study in US veterans with chronic pain showed meditation was helpful

Veterans who have been wounded often deal with chronic pain conditions. A new study suggests they might be able to help themselves.

The study tested nine veterans who had chronic pain, splitting them into two seperate groups. Several different methods were used to measure pain to ensure accuracy. 

Four of the veterans were treated with a form of mindfulness meditation called Integrative Restoration Yoga Nidra, or iRest. The remaining five received conventional treatment.

Veterans in the iRest program attended meditation sessions twice a week for eight weeks. They were also given iRest recordings to practice with outside the sessions.

At the end of the study, the veterans in the iRest program reported a 20 percent reduction in pain intensity. They also reported the pain was less likely to interfere with daily life, such as sleeping, mood or activity level.

Veterans in the control group did not report meaningful changes in pain levels.

Thomas Nassif, PhD, lead author of the study, commented in a press release, "Meditation allows a person to accept pain and to respond to pain with less stress and emotional reactivity. Our theory is that this process increases coping skills, which in turn can help veterans to self-manage their chronic pain."

Veterans who have served in combat often have multiple types of trauma, from brain injuries to missing limbs. Managing chronic pain can be difficult, as medications used to treat the problem can have side effects and may be addicting.

"In many cases, primary care physicians are the ones expected to help individuals overcome their chronic pain," Dr. Nassif noted in the press release. "One of the most commonly used tools we have in our toolbox is opioids. Veterans in this study, and many who come to meditation sessions, find that opioid medication is a short-term solution. Meditation could be a useful tool to help veterans manage their pain over the long term."

Dr. Nassif is a neuroscientist at American University's Department of Health Studies and researcher at the DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

This was a small study and may not be applicable to women or a larger population.

The study was published in the November 2015 issue of Military Behavioral Health.

Information on funding and conflict of interest was not available.