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Mindfulness exercises to reduce pain and opioid use

Mindfulness exercises to reduce pain and opioid use

Pain management through metacognition

Before having a procedure at the hospital, it is natural to have concerns about the pain you may experience as you heal. Many patients may be prescribed pain medication to help manage post-operative pain, but these medications can come with many negative side effects such as constipation or urinary retention that can result in a longer hospital stay. In some cases, the use of pain medication can even result in addiction, leading to many other health complications over time.

Understanding Pain

There are many ways the body can experience physical pain - from the pain that you experience after stubbing a toe or spraining your ankle to the pain you experience after a surgery or procedure. The nature of surgery involves damaging the tissues around the part of the body needing medical intervention - to make an incision, to move tendons or bones aside, or to replace tissues that no longer function properly.

In all of these cases, signals are sent from the affected part of your body to your brain, and your brain interprets whether the signal means your body is in danger. If the brain decides that your body is in danger, the brain creates pain, which encourages you to protect the affected area from further damage.

At BCH, we strive to provide the most cutting-edge therapies available, helping patients to live healthier, longer lives with as few medications as possible – especially opioids which can cause dependency. By understanding that pain is created by the brain as an alarm to keep us safe, we can address pain with more than just medication - we can address pain with mindfulness.

Mindfulness exercises to reduce pain

There is a scientifically proven method for managing pain through a mindfulness practice called "metacognition" that does not use medication at all. Metacognition is defined as the awareness and understanding of your thought processes, or more simply - thinking about your thoughts.

In a study by neuroscientist Eric Garland, Ph.D. of the University of Utah, patients who participated in a single mind-body exercise reported significantly lower pain intensity after the exercise than patients who were simply told about these mind-body pain coping techniques.

In these two meditative exercises presented by mind body specialist Brad Fanestil, MD, of BCH's Center for Mind Body Medicine, you can practice the skills to reduce your pain by acknowledging your sensations, then stepping back from your experience of pain and redirecting your thoughts. These exercises help you redirect your thoughts away from your pain to focus instead on observing either your breath or your sensations.