Can Meditation Manage Pain?

By Brian Dunleavy

Can Meditation Manage Pain?

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has been used to treat various conditions, including pain, for centuries. Indeed, many CAM approaches have been traced to ancient Asian and Native American cultures.

CAM is attractive to many health-care professionals and patients alike because generally it has few side effects and risks associated with its use. Of course, this depends on the precise CAM approach being used.

Recently, greater attention has been paid to CAM in the treatment of pain due, in part, to some of the risks associated with traditional medical approaches. However, to date there has been relatively little research supporting CAM’s safety and efficacy.

A team of researchers from West Virginia University sought to analyze existing data on the effects of meditative movement therapies that include meditation (yoga, tai chi and qigong) on health-related quality of life (a formal measure of well-being that assesses multiple criteria, typically on a 1-10 or 1-5 scale) in adults with a number of common conditions, including low back pain, cancer and diabetes. In the end, they focused on the findings of 10 meta-analyses—published studies that include data from multiple trials—ranging in size from 82 to 528 participants. Within these meta-analyses, median length, frequency and duration of the meditative movement therapies used were 12 weeks, three times per week and 71 minutes per session, respectively.

The authors found that the majority of results of the previous trials (78.9%) yielded statistically significant improvements in health-related quality of life, with mean improvements in rating scores ranging from 0.18 to 2.28. Conditions in which the researchers found improvement in health-related quality of life included breast cancer, schizophrenia, low back pain, heart failure and diabetes.

As promising as these findings are, they do not answer all of the questions regarding CAM approaches, such as meditative movement therapies; indeed, the authors emphasize that larger trials of these approaches are needed before they can be incorporated formally into treatment plans for these conditions. As with any treatment, you should check with your doctor before you begin using CAM.

“Meditative Movement Therapies and Health-related Quality-of-Life in Adults: A Systematic Review of Meta-Analyses.” PLoS One 10, no. 6 (June 8, 2015) [published online]


Last Reviewed November 10, 2015

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Brian Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York City.

Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

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