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Mind-body therapies can reduce pain and opioid use


Our ability to feel pain and react to it is both a boon and a curse, simultaneously. The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.” This means that pain is highly subjective, and it is informed by a mix of past experiences, our current emotional state, and future expectations. Since pain is an emotional and sensory experience it affects our quality of life immensely, and treatment is complex.

Chronic pain management with opioids is not ideal

Opioids are among the most potent medications used to manage pain. Opioids curb pain by blocking pain signals between the brain and the body. This class of medication also relaxes the brain, providing a sense of calm and euphoria, and there is a high risk of addiction. Opioid misuse is more pronounced in people who have had surgery and been given opioids than in people who have not had surgery. The longer a person uses opioids, the greater risk of their misusing these medications. The ongoing opioid epidemic has led physicians to look for adjunct and nonmedication therapies to help people reduce opioid use and still effectively manage pain.

Mind-body therapies for pain management

Mind-body therapies (MBTs) are integrative practices, and they include breathing exercises and/or body movements aimed at achieving relaxation of mind and body. Some MBTs are Isha yoga, vipassana, mindfulness-based stress reduction, integrative body-mind training, tai chi, guided imagery, cognitive behavioral therapy, and others.

Pain and meditation both alter our senses, thinking, and emotional responses

One MBT is mindfulness meditation, which involves practicing attention control, emotional regulation, and self-awareness. There is increased perception and awareness with mindfulness practices, and meditation addresses both the sensory and emotional components of pain. The interoception center in the brain increases and the amygdala shrinks in size with regular mindfulness practices, which explains better emotional regulation and pain control. The brain’s ability to react to painful stimuli with an emotional response decreases, and a person is more likely to respond calmly to a stimulus instead of having a hasty emotional reaction (hurt, pain, anger, etc.). The increased perception and awareness with regular mediation will make a person feel every sensation, including pain; however, they may choose not to react to it, so practicing meditation can help you better manage pain.

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Written by Shobha


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