Study says meditation can help veterans manage chronic pain

Posted Feb 17, 2016 by Sravanth Verma
A pilot study conduced by Washington DC-based Veterans Affairs Medical Center suggests that veterans of the armed forces may benefit from practicing meditation.
Meditation by the lake.
Meditation by the lake.
Nat Sakunworarat
The study reported that participants experienced a twenty percent reduction in the experience of pain. Pain interference, or how pain impedes daily activities, sleep patterns or moods, was also found to be reduced. Researchers measured these reductions across several commonly used parameters to detect pain intensity and interference.
"Meditation allows a person to accept pain and to respond to pain with less stress and emotional reactivity. Our theory is that this process increases coping skills, which in turn can help veterans to self-manage their chronic pain," said Thomas Nassif, the study's lead author and a researcher at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Pain significantly affects around 2.6 million veterans of the two US military campaigns in the Middle East, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. Most frequently, the issue is musculoskeletal pain. Victims of traumatic brain injury also suffer from chronic pain issues.
The study utilized a form of mindfulness meditation, termed iRest, during the study. iRest is being proposed as a first-level pain management intervention by the Army surgeon general's Pain Management Task Force. Four male veterans who had been through the meditation were compared to a control group of five veterans. All participants had returned from combat situations with chronic pain and some traumatic brain injury. After eight weeks of twice-weekly meditation programs, the participants who received the training reported better results as compared to the control group.
Meditation, which has been practiced in the eastern parts of the world for centuries, has begun to grow in popularity in Europe and the Americas in the last century. Many research studies have cataloged the positive benefits of meditation and yoga. For veterans and physicians, meditation can be an effective long term solution to pain, in contrast to opioids which only provide short term relief. Many veterans may be averse to the idea of meditation however, and may choose to hide their medical problems. Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas, a marine veteran herself and public health researcher said, "Framing mindfulness training as a way to "bulletproof your brain" renders the practices palatable within the confines of warrior culture."
The study calls for future research involving more participants and quantitative measures. The study titled "Mindfulness Meditation and Chronic Pain Management in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans With Traumatic Brain Injury" was published in the journal Military Behavioral Health.