Loving-kindness meditation, an ancient Buddhist practice used to develop love and to transform anger into compassion, eased back pain in chronic sufferers taking part in a pilot study at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Forty-three subjects were randomly assigned to either the meditation intervention or usual care. Standardized measures assessed patients’ pain, anger and psychological distress. Poststudy and follow-up analyses showed significant improvements in pain and psychological distress in the loving-kindness group, but no changes in the usual-care group. Anger levels fell in those who meditated.

The loving-kindness technique involved cultivating compassion both for loved ones and for those whom participants felt had harmed them. “In chronic back-pain patients, anger is a strong predictor of daily functioning,” said study co-author Jim Carson, prior to the study. “If we can help them let go of some of their anger . . . , we can help them regain function.”

“Our rationale is that the anger we all hold toward wrong-doers and ourselves negatively affects physical pain and psychological well-being,” said research assistant Ann Aspnes. “Pain medications are extremely helpful, [but they] have their own limits and side effects and expense.”

The researchers concluded that clinicians may find loving-kindness meditation helpful in the treatment of patients with persistent pain.