Led by biostatistician Dr Wei Cheng from The Ottawa Hospital in Ontario, Canada, the study looked at 21 clinical trials involving nearly 2,000 participants to assess the effectiveness of mindfulness compared to cognitive behavioural therapy(CBT) on chronic pain, which is defined as pain lasting at least three months.
Participants were aged between 35 and 65, mainly women, with many living with chronic pain for over a decade.
Currently, CBT is the most widely used psychological technique for the treatment of chronic pain in the world, which aims to help people develop coping mechanisms for their discomfort.
However, the researchers note that not everyone living with chronic pain finds the therapy helpful.
As such, the team decided to look into mindfulness meditation as an alternative treatment.
Having grown in popularity in recent years, it is a type of meditation that helps promote stress relief by encouraging individuals to focus on being in the moment, paying particular attention to their thoughts and bodily sensations.
The findings, published in the journal Evidence Based Mental Health, showed that there were no significant differences between using either CBT or mindfulness to ease chronic pain.
Researchers note that both methods reduced the severity of pain in participants as well as improving physical functioning and depression associated with chronic pain.
However, the researchers did admit that it is too early to tell whether CBT or mindfulness would be better for people with different types of pain and psychological symptoms.
As such, they suggest further research in this area is needed.
“While CBT is considered to be the preferred psychological intervention of [chronic pain], not all patients with [it] experience a clinically significant treatment response,” the scientists said.
”Although a number of recommendations have been proposed to improve CBT for patients with chronic pain, an additional solution may be to offer patients mindfulness-based stress reduction since it shows promise in improving pain severity and reducing pain interference and psychological distress."
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