Mindfulness. What is it? Where did it come from? How does it work? Can it help me?
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness. It seems to be everywhere at the moment, whether it’s in a class or group format, integrated into a yoga session or on an app on your phone. So, what’s all the fuss about? Especially when it comes to managing pain.
Mindfulness is defined as “paying attention on purpose, non-judgementally, in the present moment.” It has been around for thousands of years’ and originates from ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese philosophies. Originally the role of mindfulness was to keep the mind focused on the present moment and reduce reactivity to all experiences whether they are positive or negative, so that overall levels of suffering are reduced and your sense of well being is increased. Over the years the foundations of mindfulness have stayed the same, however it is now being used increasingly to help people who suffer from conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression.
Similarly to this, researchers and clinicians have been applying the same concepts of mindfulness to help people in pain, most commonly those suffering from chronic musculoskeletal conditions such as; persistent low back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, headaches, migraines and many more.
What is the research is saying?
In the last 25 years there have been lots of clinical trails exploring how mindfulness can help those suffering from pain.
Studies which focused on patients suffering from Fibromyalgia, a condition which causes widespread pain throughout the body, tiredness and muscle stiffness. Found that mindfulness showed to significantly decrease pain, improve quality of life and the patients ability to cope with pain, as well as improving patient mental health, with these effects extending up to 3 years in some cases.
Similarly to those suffering from fibromyalgia, there have been a few studies which have shown beneficial effects of mindfulness in those suffering from a variety of different musculoskeletal conditions. A study performed in 2010 found that the benefit of mindfulness varied depending on what condition they presented with.
Patients with arthritis, back/neck pain showed significant changes in pain intensity and functional limitations, following an 8 week course of mindfulness. Those with arthritis showed the largest improvements for health related quality of life and psychological distress caused by their condition. With those suffering from chronic headaches/migraines experiencing the smallest improvement in pain and quality of life. This study also found that those who practiced mindfulness more frequently at home, had greater improvements in mental health status and symptom intensity.
These studies all show that mindfulness does benefit those suffering from pain, especially of a musculoskeletal origin. However, how this happens or why this happens is still not fully understood. Some people suggest that the pain reduction is related to reduced anxiety and the enhanced ability to focus on the present moment where others have found that mindfulness can actually change the structure and function of an area of the brain which helps process pain.
There is no doubt that somebody is working away trying to find the answers as to why it works. However, from a patients perspective ‘if it works’ is the most important thing, and these studies all suggest it does! So why not give it a go!
Resources for you!
In 2017 a study was performed and showed that mindfulness combined with osteopathy can significantly improve the outcome of patients suffering from musculoskeletal pain which had been present for at least 6 months.
Since this I have taken a keen interest in how mindfulness and osteopathy can be used together to help patients overcome pain that has been around for longer than it should be. I regularly suggest patients practice mindfulness especially if the pain they come to me with is linked to stress or they are feeling particularly down or anxious about the pain they are experiencing.
So here are my go to mindfulness resources that anyone can use (and hopefully benefit from)
1. Bangor University Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice
Bangor University is one of the few universities in the UK which studies mindfulness specifically. Their centre for research provides loads of free online tapes that you can download or listen to on most devices. These range from brief 5 minute body scans to mindfulness tapes you can do whilst your on a walk.
2. Headspace App/Online
Available on most devices, this app provides a free taster into mindfulness, once you’ve used your free credits, you can pay a subscription fee to enjoy a variety of different mindfulness tapes.
3. Mind – for better mental health
This charity provides members of the public with mental health support, they also have multiple branches throughout the UK which provide mindfulness training and courses which you can apply to attend.
These resources should help you kickstart the process of becoming more mindful. Remember osteopathy and mindfulness can provide great outcomes for patients when used together, so if you have pain that is starting to become more dominant upon your life. Seek professional help and don’t live in pain (see details bellow)
If mindfulness exercises aren’t enough it may be time to call an osteopath!
Book an appointment:
ADDRESS – OVERCOME – ACHIEVE
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Adler-Neal, A. L., & Zeidan, F. (2017). Mindfulness Meditation for Fibromyalgia: Mechanistic and Clinical Considerations. Current rheumatology reports, 19(9), 59.
Astin, J. A., Berman, B. M., Bausell, B., Lee, W. L., Hochberg, M., & Forys, K. L. (2003). The efficacy of mindfulness meditation plus Qigong movement therapy in the treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. The Journal of rheumatology, 30(10), 2257-2262.
Bawa, F. L. M., Mercer, S. W., Atherton, R. J., Clague, F., Keen, A., Scott, N. W., & Bond, C. M. (2015). Does mindfulness improve outcomes in patients with chronic pain? Systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Gen Pract, 65(635), e387-e400
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Gotink, R. A., Meijboom, R., Vernooij, M. W., Smits, M., & Hunink, M. M. (2016). 8-week mindfulness based stress reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice–a systematic review. Brain and cognition, 108, 32-41.
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Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36-43
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Rosenzweig, S., Greeson, J. M., Reibel, D. K., Green, J. S., Jasser, S. A., & Beasley, D. (2010). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice. Journal of psychosomatic research, 68(1), 29-36.
Carnes, D., Mars, T., Plunkett, A., Nanke, L., & Abbey, H. (2017). A mixed methods evaluation of a third wave cognitive behavioural therapy and osteopathic treatment programme for chronic pain in primary care (OsteoMAP). International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, 24, 12-17.