When you suffer from chronic back pain, painkillers are not always enough. Why not try mindfulness meditation? This is a proven, non-drug method of meditation. It’s impossible to miss the popularity of meditation, whether it’s on the Internet, in magazines, or on television. Just a fad? Not only that, because several scientific studies have proven its benefits against stress or pain, especially back pain.
Mindfulness meditation, a practise accessible to all
The technique studied by the researchers is that of mindfulness meditation, a traditional method stripped of its spiritual aspects. It does not require any prior knowledge: anyone can do it.
Mindfulness meditation consists of observing and accepting everything that happens in the body, without trying to interfere with it.
Careful, that’s not relaxation! Meditation is an active attitude where the senses are awakened. One learns to extract oneself from one’s emotions and sensations to reach, through practice, an inner peace.
Two mechanisms at work in chronic low back pain
Physicians have identified at least two mechanisms at work in chronic back pain, and meditation seems particularly well suited to address them.
1- Pain causes the body’s defensive reactions. In particular, muscles tighten to form contractures. The sufferer reduces his or her movements as much as possible, and the joints stiffen.
2- The brain is also known to play a significant role in the eroticization of pain. Through advances in brain imaging, researchers have observed how pain sensation eventually evolves on its own, fuelled by stress and anxiety. It is not uncommon for the original lesion to disappear completely, but low back pain persists because of these self-aggravating phenomena.
Meditation relaxes the muscles and reduces pain
In one study, a group of people treated with painkillers was compared with a group of people who had undergone meditation sessions. The results are indisputable: the patients in the second group saw a 51% improvement in their pain and mobility, while the first group had only 27% relief. This explains why meditation first relaxes the muscles. The whole body relaxes.
It also changes our relationship to pain. By accepting it, we free ourselves from the negative emotions that aggravate and maintain the pain.
How to meditate?
The ideal is to sit with your back straight on a chair, but it is not obligatory. It is necessary to look for the most comfortable position, even lying down, so as not to aggravate the pain. Close your eyes or fix a point on the floor in front of you. Finally, concentrate all your attention on your breathing. It is a question of observation without trying to control it. The rhythm of breathing will calm itself.
Next step: observe all the sensations that come up and the thoughts that go through your mind. The idea is to welcome them with kindness, then let them pass without commenting on them. We note the pain in the same way as the rest, taking as much distance as possible as if it were someone else.
Then, patience! You have to practice every day, for six to eight weeks, to get relief. The brain is a plastic organ: the more you meditate, the more you get there. You have to do it gradually, starting with 10-minute sessions, then, when you feel more comfortable, steadily increasing to 20 minutes.
If you have medication, you continue it in parallel with meditation. It is essential to break the vicious circle of pain and stress that feed off each other. As soon as you begin to feel better, you resume your usual activities, possibly adding a very gentle sport, such as swimming pool exercises.
Don’t hesitate to seek help
When one begins meditation, it is not uncommon to ask questions or encounter specific problems. Most of the time, they concern about letting go. By dint of wanting to calm down at all costs, one ends up becoming tense, annoyed, and multiplies negative thoughts such as I will never succeed or I’m in too much pain.
The solution is to focus again on your breathing. If this seems too difficult, you should not hesitate to make an appointment with a meditation coach, to take a course or to immerse yourself in books specially written for beginners.