Mindful meditation can relieve chronic, debilitating pain in older adults, according to a new study from Pitt researchers.
Researchers from UPMC published the study, which showed the effects of meditation on chronic pain, in the American Medical Association’s journal of internal medicine in March 2016, and found that patients with chronic lower back pain who meditated felt their symptoms go away after eight weeks of meditation training.
Natalia Morone, lead author, researcher and associate professor of medicine at Pitt, and her team recruited 282 adults aged 65 years and up who have chronic lower back pain.
Morone and her team taught chronic low back pain sufferers mindfulness-based meditation, which involved directed breathing and drawing attention to thoughts and body sensations. Compared to a control group, subjects who received meditation training experienced significant relief from their pain.
Half of Morone’s subjects underwent an eight-week group training course on mindfulness-based meditation between February 2011 and June 2014, and the other half — the control group — received an eight-month education on healthy aging.
Eighty percent of participants who received the mindfulness meditation training described improvement in their pain, function and coping levels directly after the eight-week program. Six months later, 76 percent of the meditation group reported at least minimal improvement.
Thirty-seven percent of the study’s control group saw decrease in pain levels.
While both groups saw some improvement, the magnitude of the effect was 30 percent greater for those who learned meditation. Morone said the control group improved because people generally “get better” when they are put together in groups.
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control survey, 11 percent of Americans suffer from daily pain, and 53 percent of adults over the age of 65 experience daily pain and, according to the National Institutes of Health website, pain affects more people than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.
Morone said the study’s results offer hope for chronic pain sufferers who have tried multiple pain relief methods to little or no avail.
“If a physician tells a patient that there’s nothing more they can do, I want them to know that there is hope,” Morone said.