A Mindful Approach to Chronic Pain

The average millennial shifts their attention between technological platforms an average of 27 times per hour. From sending a text message on their cell phone, to responding to an email on their laptop, to glancing over to the T.V. to catch a news segment, distraction is undeniable.

Anderson Cooper did a great service in doing a segment on mindfulness on 60 Minutes last weekend. While the segment focused more on those of us who constantly distracted by modern technology, Cooper reported correctly that mindfulness began as a treatment method for chronic pain almost 30 years ago.

As early as 1985, Jon Kabat-Zinn penned a study on the benefits of mindfulness in treating chronic pain. His study found that 90 chronic pain patients who went through a 10-week “Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program” saw significant reductions in pain, poor mood, anxiety and depression. The control group was treated through traditional prescription drugs, and while they experience temporary relief of their symptoms, the mindfulness group felt relief for up to 15 months.

It is especially heartening to know that the mindfulness message is being heard in the halls of Congress as well. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) regularly hosts mindful meditation sessions for other Members and staff and even secured federal funding to teach it to schoolchildren in his district. Hopefully Members with jurisdiction over health and human services will follow Ryan’s lead and learn the benefits themselves.

The 60 Minutes piece only confirms what many in the field of chronic pain already know: purposeful meditation and focus on present-moment experiences has a powerful impact on pain mitigation. There is an important place for mindful meditation in chronic pain treatment, one that ought to be recognized by the federal government through treatments provided under Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. If the health insurance industry at large

Science has caught up to and affirmed the benefits of mindfulness. If public policy can do the same thing, people who suffer from pain will be in a far better place.

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