The effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction [MBSR] in easing pain and improving quality of life and well-being varies according to the nature of the chronic-pain condition and the consistency of home meditation practice, according to data analysis from a 6-year longitudinal study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research (2010; 68, 29–36).
A group of medical researchers based in Philadelphia and North Carolina followed 133 chronic-pain patients who were participating in a larger MBSR study that was open to anyone interested in exploring the health benefits of meditation. Investigators observed subgroups of patients with different types of chronic pain, including neck and/or back pain, chronic headaches or migraines, arthritis, fibromyalgia and other less common conditions. The stress reduction program was modeled after the original MBSR curriculum used by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
The program in the study lasted 8 weeks and included instructions for subjects to practice 20–25 minutes of formal meditation daily, 6 days per week. Researchers found that improvements in pain and other factors were related to the particular pain condition and to subjects’ compliance with the home meditation practice.
Patients with back or neck pain and those with two or more pain conditions reported significant improvements in pain intensity and functional limitations resulting from pain. Participants with arthritis reported the most improvement in health-related quality of life and the largest reduction in psychological distress. Subjects with fibromyalgia experienced the smallest improvement in psychological distress. Those with chronic headache or migraine reported the least change in pain and health-related quality of life.
Limitations of the study included, among other factors, that it was an observational study without a control group; that only one pain assessment tool was used; that sample sizes were small for specific pain conditions; and that most participants were Caucasian women.