In an article by The Atlantic in April of 2014, writer Brian Steiner described the story of Sarah Kehoe and how meditation was the key to helping her find relief from her chronic pain.
“Sometime during the summer of 2011, Kehoe doesn’t know exactly when, a disc in her back herniated. After her surgery that September, pain seized hold of her again in the winter: the surgeon said the disc had reherniated slightly. Neither he nor Kehoe wanted to do surgery again, leaving Kehoe to search for other pain management options. Her brother had recently completed a meditation course to treat his depression and bought her a course for Christmas.”
Steiner goes on to share details of chronic pain, nerve pain, and how a holistic approach that includes meditation may be more effective than medical treatments alone.
Nerve pain and chronic conditions affect the entire lives of patients dealing with its symptoms. However, conventional medicine concentrates on controlling the causes and treating the symptoms. This can have a variety of effects on the individual depending on the severity of the pain. Because pain is so complex and the experience can affect a person’s ability to sleep and function normally, treating only the source of the pain could be only a piece of the puzzle. Individuals dealing with chronic pain also often struggle with anxiety and depression.
Medications such as narcotics or NSAIDs can help some of the symptoms but there are also negative and undesirable side effects. Individuals using opioid medications can develop a tolerance and eventually a dependence or addiction that can result in life-long problems that may have been prevented with a holistic approach to treating pain.
Meditation is a way to alter your mind and find full body relaxation. Eastern cultures have been using meditation as a spiritual and healing practice for centuries. There has even been scientific evidence to back up the positive effects of meditation on the body. The article in The Atlantic cites a study performed by Wake Forest researchers in North Carolina. Researchers worked with volunteers to determine if mindfulness meditation helped alleviate pain. They found a 40% greater reduction in pain for individuals who learned meditation techniques than those who did not. It is also important to note that the practice helped the patients who were new to meditation and that years of experience weren’t necessary to feel the positive effects.
Sarah Kehoe began to use meditation to positively benefit her life. Her pain became barely noticeable unless she specifically concentrated on it. However, she also discovered that meditation wasn’t something she could abandon when she thought she was feeling better. If she stopped meditating or was having an otherwise bad day, the pain would become intense once again. However, the overall benefits encouraged her to keep up with the practice long-term.
Meditation for nerve pain
Chronic pain, which is typically considered any pain that lasts more than three months, can take on many forms. One category is nerve pain. Nerve pain affects the nervous system which helps electrical impulses travel from the brain throughout the body. If these nerves are damaged or affected by an illness, they can cause intense pain responses. Because of the complex nature of nerve pain, it can be difficult to treat by conventional methods. Holistic approaches, however, have shown to be beneficial.
Types of nerve pain include:
- Fibromyalgia: The cause of this condition is unknown by doctors and research is still continuing. For this reason, it is difficult to treat and conventional treatments often target the symptoms only. However, the widespread pain and lowered pain threshold can significantly affect a patient’s overall quality of life.
- Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS): Previously known by many other names such as causalgia and Sudecks atrophy, CRPS is a pain and sensory condition that most frequently affects the limbs. It is common in patients who have sustained damage to their arms and legs such as by an infection or a fracture.
- Peripheral neuropathy: Experienced by some patients of chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, also called neuralgia, is the result of nerve damage that causes weakness, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet. It can also be caused by autoimmune diseases, some medications, and alcoholism.
So, could meditation be an effective treatment or able to be used in conjunction to other treatments to better relieve the symptoms of nerve pain?
There are many ways to learn mindfulness meditation practices. The primary component is to learn to control breathing by focusing on each breath in and out. Some traditions teach mantras to aid in this process. The most common mantra known to individuals in the west is “Om.”
A basic meditation could be sitting comfortably on the floor or a chair and concentrating on each breath. As you do this chant “Om” with each exhalation. However, a mantra isn’t necessary for meditation success. Mindfulness mediation is about connecting you to your body through relaxation. If you sit quietly and focus on your breathing, allow your mind to wander. Don’t try to control it or think of nothing. Simply being present is the beginning of a successful meditative practice.
For patients suffering from nerve pain that can be difficult to control through conventional methods, mindful meditation may be a good first step on the road to maintaining a balance between pain and health. It can be a way to focus energy on healing, fend off feelings of depression, and reduce the overall response to painful stimuli.
Other similar practices could also be incorporated into a successful treatment plan for nerve pain or other chronic conditions. Yoga, for example, is a similar tradition where mindfulness is focused on performing poses as well as maintaining a steady breath. Yoga classes and programs often end with a few moments of quiet meditation as a cool down from the exercise. Yoga and meditation are both excellent practices for increasing your overall awareness and holistic healing.
If you feel that meditation could help your nerve pain or chronic condition you may want to speak with a professional teacher to learn the right techniques for you.
Have you used meditation to help you with your healing process? What was the overall effect?
Image by Balint Földesi via Flickr