Meditation may help chronic pain sufferers ween themselves off addictive opioid painkillers, new research suggests.
Last year, 72,000 people died of opioid overdoses.
Experts say that the prescription painkiller OxyContin may have been the catalyst for the ongoing opioid epidemic, yet the drug is still the most popular first line of treatment for pain.
As doctors and scientists attempt to develop alternative treatments, a new study from the Hospital for Special Surgery, in New York, suggests that existing approaches like meditation may help patients manage pain with less medication.
Mindfulness practices like meditation helped 11 percent of chronic pain sufferers in an experimental program take less prescription painkiller medication, a new study reveals
More than 11 percent of Americans live with chronic pain that makes every day tasks difficult and leaves many unable to work.
Pain is a universal human experience, but we still struggle to understand it, rate its severity and treat it without risking dire addiction consequences.
‘Opioid misuse and addiction are a major public health issue in the United States, and approximately 70 percent of individuals who use opioids on a long-term basis have a musculoskeletal disorder, such as low back pain or arthritis’ said one of the new study’s authors, Dr Maggie Wimmer of Hospital for Special Surgery.
In recent years, Western doctors have begun to adopt and recommend side effect-free alternative practices like meditation and mindful breathing as complementary treatments for pain.
And a growing body of research supports the move in this direction, especially as prescription opioids’ role in the addiction epidemic becomes undeniable.
So Dr Wimmer and her team decided to try out a new program to introduce some of Hospital for Special Surgery’s patients to alternative treatments.
They enrolled 122 participants to attend monthly meditation workshops with an instructor and social worker.
In between the classes, the patients had a weekly conference call in which the meditated in unison but from afar.
The team to taught study participants to use breathing and meditation to reduce stress and use mindfulness – rather than medication – to cope with pain.
Pain sensations are communicated through nerves, and are mediated by both physical and mental processes.
So the behind meditation is that its mentally calming and physically relaxing effects can help to diminish our experience of pain, which we know can be worsened by emotional stress.
If it works, it’s a cheaper, easier and harmless complementary treatment.
And in the case of the Hospital for Special Surgery study, it did work.
Nearly all (98 percent) of the patients said that they were happy with the program, and most of those said that they learned better how these mindfulness techniques could reduce their pain and stress.
A third of the participants said that either meditated or did mindful breathing at least five times a week.
And, perhaps most encouragingly, more than half of those 122 participants said that what they learned in the classes helped them get control over stress and pain.
Eleven percent even said they used mindfulness or meditation instead of medication.
One of the patients seemed to have a revelation, discovering that ‘It’s not just he pills that can help with pain; you can do it with you mind.’
The Hospital for Special Surgery plans to expand its meditation program, enrolling arthritis and rheumatology patients who are often reliant on opioids for years and even decades after their diagnoses.