Chronic pain from various diagnosis is the most common issue I treat in my medical practice. This finding is confirmed by studies showing that “one in 10 adults in the general population report chronic widespread pain with possible sociocultural variation.¹” The options for patients suffering from chronic pain remain limited. I have been advising my patients that starting a meditation practice as part of the treatment plan in dealing with chronic pain. Patients with the diagnosis of Chronic Pain from any source typically are being treated by a number of specialists and practitioners.
They are often spending significant hours weekly pursuing and receiving medical treatments. My biggest worry with patients is that if opioids are being used, without a clear endpoint for treatment that the opioids will become needed for a long duration. Reliance and dependence on opioids for chronic pain creates a host of issues separate from the original source of the pain.
Learn about types of Chronic pain in my podcast
In this post, I am offering my recommendations to approach adding meditation as a treatment regimen for those suffering with chronic pain.
Deciding on a Meditation Instructor, Course, or Free Resource
Starting a meditation practice can be done for free, but there may be reasons to invest in formal training or a course. Working one on one with a Yoga or Meditation Instructor may be the most expensive option, but this will also provide the best way to initiate or continue your practice. One on one work is not mandatory, but for those that are used to pursuing care in this fashion it will be easy to start working with someone.
Least expensive will be finding free meditation resources online. This is a perfectly fine option. I often recommend free online resources knowing that my patients may be spending thousands of dollars on healthcare monthly. Naturally, you won’t have the benefit of one on one attention. Using a free resource such as YouTube allows you to try meditation without investing any money.
I strongly recommend that someone who is new meditation to start with short intervals, no more than 5 minutes. In the 21 Day Meditation Challenge at Healing Arts Health and Wellness, the majority of exercises are under 6 minutes. Longer meditations can reap more benefit, however, physical comfort must be considered. If you have chronic pain, you will have to recognize that the beginning of your meditation journey that your physical needs may limit you to short intervals which is perfectly fine. Luckily, technology has provided so many ways to pursue a structured meditation course. This will be ideal as it will take away guessing at what meditation to do next, but may require some time to perform daily.
I recommend assigning a specific time to meditate and possibly treating it like a doctor’s appointment. This will help to train your mind and body that this time is sacred and intentional. My own observation is that different types of chronic pain seem to do best with meditation at various times. If you are suffering from chronic joint pain from arthritis, starting your day with mindful movement may assure increased energy and reduced pain for the rest of the day. Chronic neuropathic pain, such as diabetic neuropathy typically benefit from evening or night practices. Settling the nervous system prior to bedtime is a fantastic way to calm the pain of neuropathy. Patients taking chronic opioids should consider an evening practice, particularly if you are taking opioids more than every 8 hours. Opioids disrupt your sleep, and when possible it is best to avoid them at bedtime. Having a relaxation plan to reduce the need for nighttime opioids can help to improve sleep quality.
Special Considerations for Meditating with Chronic Pain
Once you have decided how you still start your meditation journey, also consider if it may be worthwhile to invest in any special equipment. One example is you want to use a special chair designed for meditation. Finding a comfortable position will be top priority. If you are dealing with chronic pain from the lower back, laying down with your legs supported may be your best option. If your chronic pain comes from neuropathy in your legs and feet, it may feel better to elevate them. If you have chronic neck pain, having support under your head and neck with a special pillow may be needed.
Getting Advice from Your Physical Therapist
Likely if you are suffering from chronic pain, you are under the care of a physical therapist. This is an invaluable resource as they will understand the physiology and challenges you experience with your pain. I would recommend asking your physical therapist for guidance for positioning yourself in your meditation practice at home. Your physical therapist will likely have useful solutions that can eliminate any barriers in getting started.
Preparing Yourself for Your Meditation Practice
Finally, make your meditation practice as pleasant and sensual as you like. Consider adding aromatherapy in the form of high quality essential oils. You may want to invest in candles or nice lighting. A warm blanket also helps the body relax. Covering your lap with a warm blanket during a seated practice really helps in relaxing. Also reduce distractions as much as feasible. This may mean putting your phone on Do Not Disturb. You may want to let household family members know that you wish not to be disturbed during your meditation practice. Review your medications with your physician. Are there medications you may want to avoid before meditation? Are there medications you may want to consider taking to help you be comfortable with meditation? Would you benefit from adding heat therapy or cold therapy at that time as well?
Chronic pain is difficult, frustrating, and currently has little rapid solutions in our current care models. Adding meditation is a low risk, high yield activity that augments the treatment plan for any chronic pain diagnosis. I have created a 21 Day Meditation Challenge, a 21 day course that will allow you to try multiple meditation types in short durations. This course will be a way to start your meditation journey easily.
Click the link above to learn more about the 21 Day Meditation Challenge
1. Mansfield, K. E., Sim, J., Jordan, J. L., & Jordan, K. P. (2016). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the prevalence of chronic widespread pain in the general population. Pain, 157(1), 55–64. https://doi.org/10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000314