Chronic Pain

The Mindfulness Approach – Living In The Moment

Chronic pain now affects nearly one-third of the U.S. population. With prescription opioids now being the leading treatment for chronic pain in the U.S., new ways of treatment are needed given the rise in prescription opioid misuse, according to a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. More studies are finding that mindfulness training can be extremely beneficial to people suffering with chronic pain.

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Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation and has entered the American mainstream in recent years due in part through the work of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at University of Massachusetts Medical School. Patients who learn mindfulness meditation relate to their pain differently and they’re more willing to move through their pain rather than try to avoid it, researchers say.

Buddhist meditation woman

When it comes to chronic pain, the key is learning to live with it rather than vainly trying to avoid or eradicate it, according to Dr. Christiane Wolf, MD at University of Massachusetts Medical School (April 2015 issue of Mindful magazine). Dr. Wolf says a regular mindfulness meditation practice may be the best long-term approach for working with pain. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to our thoughts and feelings in the present moment rather than living in the past or thinking about the future.

Live in the moment

A recent study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente, Colorado with 38 participants who were suffering from chronic back or joint pain or psychological distress and who took part in an 8-week MBSR program. At the end of the 8-week program, patients reported significant improvements in both their mental and physical functioning and decreased use of health care services.

Another study incorporating mindfulness training was conducted by researchers at the University of Utah with 115 patients suffering from chronic benign (non-cancer related) pain conditions of lumbago, arthritis, fibromyalgia and other pain conditions. These patients had been taking prescribed opioids on a daily basis for chronic pain in the 90 days prior to taking part in the study. Patients began treatment with a Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) program which consisted of techniques from mindfulness training, cognitive-behavioral therapy and positive psychology.

Results from the University of Utah study showed that the MORE program significantly reduced chronic pain symptoms as well as prescription opioid misuse and led to greater reductions in pain severity. At the 3-month follow-up, the effect on pain severity was found to be modest but still clinically significant, according to benchmarks for chronic pain treatment.

While more research needs to be done in this area, studies are confirming the positive effects of mindfulness-oriented practice when done on a daily basis. Mindfulness training holds promise in the future treatment of chronic pain and the reduction of prescription opioids which is now the leading treatment for chronic pain. For more information on Mindfulness, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and other programs, visit


Garland, E. L., Manusov, E. G., Froeliger, B., Kelly, A., Williams, J. M., & Howard, M. O. (2014). Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement for Chronic Pain and Prescription Opioid Misuse: Results from an Early Stage Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology82(3), 448–459.

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