Can Mindfulness Really Reduce Pain?


It’s no secret that meditation calms the mind. Anyone who’s ever closed their eyes and taken a few deep breaths can attest to the power of peace and quiet. Science supports this too: Several studies have show that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)—an eight-week group therapy program that combines meditation, focus, and being present—can ease stress and anxiety as well as depression and fatigue. This mind-body approach, which was popularized in the late 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., the founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, may offer benefits that extend beyond the brain. New research suggests that feeling zen may aid in physical pain relief, too.

A recent study published in the journal JAMA observed people with chronic lower back pain who received either MBSR, cognitive behavioral therapy (a talk therapy designed to change negative thinking patterns), or whatever standard care they were using before. The results: 61 percent of those who completed the MBSR class saw meaningful improvements six months later, 58 percent of those who did cognitive behavioral therapy also benefitted, and 44 percent who kept their usual treatment strategy saw some improvements. While the results are close, it’s clear that there’s more to learn about how MBSR provides pain relief, perhaps better than other programs.

How does MBSR work? Over the eight-week course, inst…

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