November 11, 2020

How does mindfulness help manage pain?

Reviewed by the Transitional Pain Service team at the Toronto General Hospital
The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that has its roots in ancient Buddhist practices for calming the mind. In recent years, mindfulness has grown in popularity as people have found it useful for coping with a wide variety of medical conditions. If you are living with pain because of an illness, an injury, or surgery, you can incorporate mindfulness as part of your overall wellness plan.

Mindfulness is a way of practicing bringing your attention to your experiences in the present moment, without judgement, and with acceptance for the way things are. Mindfulness can help you to calm your mind when you are in pain, and to reduce the emotional impact of your pain.
Medication for Neuropathic pain treatment
Mindfulness is like any other skill that you may have learned in your life -- with practice, it becomes easier. It is good to start small. You can start with five minutes of meditation where you focus your attention on your breath, or with a short, mindful walk, where you take the time to get out of "automatic pilot" and notice all that is happening around you.
Benefits of mindfulness
Every person who goes through surgery has their own recovery timeline. For some people, pain after surgery lasts a few weeks or perhaps a few months. For others, pain can linger and become a cause of ongoing stress and difficulty.

Living with pain is really challenging. Medication can help, but it often can't take away pain completely. Adding another coping tool like mindfulness can help you to feel empowered to deal with any lingering pain.

  • Mindfulness has many benefits:
  • 1
    Reduces the intensity and unpleasantness of pain
    A mindful approach can make pain feel less overwhelming. Even if the pain remains the same, it feels more manageable and you can cope.
  • 2
    Reduces stress and anxiety
    Mindfulness calms the mind, quiets worries, and reduces tension. You can respond more resiliently to stress and challenges.
  • 3
    Improves concentration
    Practicing mindfulness allows you to clear your mind from distractions and gives you the ability to focus your attention on the task at hand.
  • 4
    Improves sleep
    When you are living with pain, falling and staying asleep is often harder. Mindfulness practice before bed can help you to quiet your mind, relax your body, and welcome sleep.
  • 5
    Treats and prevents depression
    People who are depressed dwell on negative thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about themselves. Mindfulness allows you to notice negative thoughts without getting stuck in negative thinking patterns, leading to a fresh new perspective.
  • 6
    Improves physical health
    Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can lead to positive changes in health and well-being.
  • 7
    Greater enjoyment of life
    Being mindful allows you to savor the pleasures of life as they happen real-time, improves your relationships with others, and gives you the resilience to deal with difficult situations in your life, such as ongoing pain.
Getting started with mindfulness
There are many activities you can do to incorporate mindfulness in your way of life. With so many choices out there, it can be hard to decide which one to choose. What may work for others may not work for you. It is important that you find a meditation practice that you enjoy doing.

If you are a beginner to meditation, you can try out a couple of these basic steps. Once you have mastered these techniques, you can then move on to the more advanced ones.
  • 1
    Take deep breaths
    Focus on breathing in and breathing out slowly. Let your breath flow all throughout your body. Let go of your current thoughts and focus on the way you breathe instead. When you feel your mind beginning to wander, gently guide it back to what you are doing.
  • 2
    Take a walk
    A change of scenery is always a good thing to take your mind off things. If you live near the woods or near a park, take advantage of all the green space to meditate. If your body will allow it, a walk outdoors will help clear out the mental fog and distract you from the pain you are feeling. Choose a pace that feels natural and comfortable for you. With each step you take, be aware of how your feet are touching the ground, and become aware of the nature that surrounds you.
  • 3
    Listen to music
    Choose a piece of music that you have never heard of before and listen to it intently without judgement. Close your eyes to shut down any form of distraction and be in the present moment with the music, instead of focusing on your pain.
  • 4
    Find yourself a quiet place and get into a comfortable position. You can sit in your favorite chair or sit down on the floor. Close your eyes gently and focus on your breathing.
Using mindfulness to manage pain
What most people do with pain is to instinctively run away from it. However, having to constantly push it away can be a never-ending and frustrating battle, which will only serve to aggravate the pain even further. Once your body becomes anxious because of the pain, the more it becomes sensitive to the pain sensation. When you practice mindfulness on a regular basis, you get to face the chronic pain head-on and learn to live with it, instead of vainly trying to remove it permanently out of your life. Unlike medication or surgery which is something done to you, mindfulness is something you do for yourself. It also allows you to control the emotional aspect of pain, which leads to less pain overall.

Living with chronic pain can be difficult at times. Meditation is a great mental exercise that you can do when you find yourself struggling with pain. It also helps you approach the pain with less fear and more acceptance. By practicing mindfulness, you are able to respond better to the pain and as a result, will suffer less from it.