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Does It Hurt When You Do That? Meditation and Pain Management

I know I say this every month, but I am so excited about this Thursday night’s Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner…for a lot of reasons.

If you haven’t heard yet, I’m welcoming my friends, Patti & Marty Hulsebos from Naples Transcendental Meditation to speak at that dinner, and I’m really looking forward to the breakthroughs people are going to receive from their presentation.

Overcoming Misconceptions

As we’ve talked about for the last three weeks, there are some significant misconceptions about meditation that I believe are blocking people from receiving the health benefits it could otherwise bring them. Some of them have to do with religious teaching or stereotypes. I understand some of the concerns people have. Patti and Marty are professionals with a wealth of wisdom that comes from experience. I trust them, and I believe they hold a key to some significant wellness breakthroughs for some of my patients and their family members.

Experiencing the Health Benefits

We also talked about some of the obvious physical health benefits that come from reducing your stress and relaxing the pressure on your various muscle group, most notably around your heart. I’m telling you, I see people every day who look like they might pop like a balloon if I get too close to them. That’s not living.

There’s also an important link between meditation and mental/emotional wellness. Last week, we examined some of the research behind the use of different styles of meditation to treat mental health issues like insomnia, depression, PTSD, ADHD, and addiction.

I think we do ourselves a disservice by not carefully considering the potential benefits of meditation for our overall wellness.

That’s why I’m particularly interested in this presentation. I think it’s going to clear up some long-held misunderstandings and set some people free.

Haven’t Got Time For The Pain

There’s one more area I want to explore while we’re on the subject, and that is the use of meditation for pain management.

Chances are pretty good that you know someone who has dealt with addiction to prescription (or illicit) painkillers. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry. People are in pain, and the fast-food American mindset looks for immediate relief without any thought about long-term consequences or side effects.

Seeing Your Warning Signs

The dashboard of your car has a “check engine” light. It’s an important signal to watch out for. If that light comes on, you better pull over and pay attention to your engine. Ignoring it is a bad choice. Putting black tape over it and pretending it isn’t flashing – there’s no nice way to say this – is stupid. You’re going to ruin your car beyond repair. Replacement becomes the only viable alternative.

Pain is your body’s “check engine” light. You have pay attention to it.

Now, I get it. You haven’t got time for the pain. It’s inconvenient, and it hampers your productivity.

But taking prescription (or illicit) drugs to mask or dull the pain is foolish. It doesn’t make the root problem go away; it actually impairs your ability to fix the root cause of the pain.

You have a headache for a reason. Something is wrong. Figure out the root cause and deal with it. I’d be willing to bet it has to do with not drinking enough water (but that’s for another article).

That leaves us in a little bit of a quandary: I don’t want to suffer pain, but I also don’t want to be addicted to drugs that hide the pain without solving the problem.

Meditation For Pain Management

Enter meditation.

Dr. Joseph Mercola has a great article that reviews some of the research on the use of meditation for pain management:

Meditation can be a powerful pain reliever. Among volunteers who had never meditated before, those who attended four 20-minute classes to learn a meditation technique called focused attention (a form of mindfulness meditation) experienced significant pain relief — a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness.

How mediation relieves pain has remained more of a mystery. Even though mindfulness meditation activates multiple brain regions that contain a high expression of opioid receptors, researchers noted that it’s unknown whether the practice relieves pain via this mechanism.

They devised a study to find out, which entailed teaching a group of people mindfulness meditation and then exposing them to pain via a hot probe on the back of the leg.

The group was told to meditate during the pain, and at the same time half of the group was injected with naloxone, which blocks the body’s opiate receptors.

Study co-author Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, explained to Time, “If meditation works through opiates, and we’re blocking opiates … in the body, then the pain-relieving effects of meditation will go away.”

This, however, didn’t occur. Instead, meditators injected with a saline shot reported 21 percent less pain compared to their original pain ratings (before learning meditation) while those who received naloxone reported feeling 24 percent less pain.

If meditation’s pain-relieving effects have nothing to do with opiates, then what is responsible for its pain-relief powers? Time reported:

“Zeidan’s past research has shown that meditation activates higher-order brain regions associated with emotion regulation, focus and cognitive control, while tamping down activity in the thalamus, which transmits painful information from the body.

That helps prevent painful information from being spread throughout the brain, he explains.”

That’s good news for people who are working through pain.

Fixing Problems Hurts While It Heals

Many of my patients first come to me to address nagging chronic pain. The process of straightening subluxation and freeing up blocked nerves often comes with the experience of tenderness.

Oh heck, I’ll just come right out and say it: sometimes it just hurts. If your body has been out of alignment for a long time and the pain receptors haven’t been communicating freely, that first signal back to your brain is going to be a doozy. And retraining your muscles from one set of memories to another (your muscles form habits, too), always affects the nerve structures woven through your muscle groups.

That’s why I’ve found it so helpful to refer some of my patients to meditation training, where they can learn to manage their response to pain, if not their body’s internal pain signaling. I don’t want them to mask the pain they are experiencing; I just want them to manage it enough so that it doesn’t prevent them from making progress in their healing.

The Case For Meditation

In summary, I want to make this case for meditation:

If meditation can help you manage your pain, process your stress effectively, lower your blood pressure, manage your neurotransmitters, quiet your internal dialogue, think more clearly and deeply, feel more rested (there’s a whole section in that article from Dr. Mercola on restfulness that I didn’t even discuss), then it’s worth giving it a good look.

If you live in the Naples area, I invite you to dinner. We’ll meet at my office behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road in Naples. Get the exact directions when you RSVP on my Facebook page. Don’t wait another minute! These dinners are filling up my office. If I have to move to a bigger facility to have these dinners, that’s a good problem to have. But for now, just take a second to reserve your seat, instead of having to watch from the parking lot. I really hope you’ll join us; I think it has the potential to radically transform someone’s health prognosis. Maybe yours.

Also, I believe there are thousands of people in this area alone who would benefit from the discussion we’ve been having here about meditation over the last four weeks. Please take a few seconds to share this series on your favorite social media channel and let’s get this information in front of people who can benefit from it.

Thank you so much for helping us making Southwest Florida the healthiest place in the world to live.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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