meditation and painResearch into meditation and pain relief shows that it is effective in controlling many types of pain.  But how does it work?

When you hear the word ‘meditation’, you may immediately think of it as a Buddhist practice or as a relaxation technique.  Few people associate it with pain relief.  Over recent years, studies have shown that is a highly effective way of managing pain.

Meditation and Pain Relief

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a means of dealing with the stresses, strains and other things in life that are beyond our control. It involves practices which help to promote relaxation of mind and body. Its aim is to transform the mind. By learning to focus on one thing, you can give full attention to the present moment. It is often referred to as Mindfulness Meditation.

Techniques include:

  • Deep-breathing exercises
  • Repeating words and phrases called mantras
  • Guided imagery
  • Body scanning
  • Focused attention on the body’s physical sensations.

The idea of focusing on your pain may seem counter-productive. When you’re in pain, you want to get rid of it, out of your body and thoughts. But studies have shown that meditation significantly reduces pain and also the perception of pain. MRI scans show a significant decrease in pain reception in the brain of a person who is meditating.

How Does Meditation Work on Pain?

  1. Reduces Pain by
  • Decreasing pain sensations and helping you relax.
  • Changing the way information is processed in the brain and how the mind perceives pain.
  • Activating the parasympathetic nervous system which results in decreased muscle tension and the release of pain relieving neurotransmitters.
  1. Raises Awareness

Meditation brings you into present-moment awareness. You are better able to observe your body’s physical sensations. You are more in tune with your body. This raised awareness means you may take better care of your body and intervene earlier to prevent pain.

  1. Focuses on the Whole Person

Research has shown what many ancient cultures already knew.  Dealing with the whole person is essential to healing. When you are in constant pain it colours your whole experience of living. Meditation can help with the feelings that come with chronic pain such as depression, anxiety and anger. It increase feelings of calm and happiness and these positive states of mind make pain more manageable. It also helps you come to terms with your pain and realize that your experience of life can be wider than the pain.

  1. Acts as a Distraction

Meditation can help pain feel less intense by providing a distraction as you focus on other things. As a result, the pain becomes less dominant in your life. It also changes the way you think about the pain so that you are not constantly judging and relating to it. This makes it less distressing and increases your pain tolerance.

This is the curious and contradictory aspect of meditation.  It helps by distracting you, but the practice also involves paying attention to the pain, which as seen above, is highly effective for pain relief.

  1. Empowers

Mediation puts you back in control.  Chronic pain can lead to feelings of despair and vulnerability.  Health professionals and drugs may appear to dominate your life. Things are done to you.  Meditation is something you choose to do and is a practice you do to yourself.  You have the power to change things. Knowing this and feeling the positive effects of meditation can give you a new sense of control over your situation.  Meditation also helps to improve your coping skills.

Despite analgesic medications, people still struggle with pain and inflammation, both physically and psychologically.    If you suffer from severe pain, it may be useful to find out more about meditation and pain relief.


Zeidan F, Gordon NS, Merchant J, Goolkasian P. The effects of brief mindfulness meditation training on experimentally induced pain. J Pain. 2010; 11(3):199-209.

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