Meditation, Relaxation Response Can Be Effective in Reducing Pain

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

Once your alarm rudely awakens you in the morning, your feet hit the ground running because the children need to get off to school, the laundry needs to be started, the dog needs a walk, and you need to call the plumber about that leak under your bathroom sink. This swirling lifestyle is a huge source of stress and a trigger for the fight or flight response system found in all animals. Instead of being chased by lions, you are being chased by your life. If your life also happens to include a painful condition, the ups and downs of a stressful life can really affect the intensity level of pain. Wouldn't you love to learn how to counteract stress and smooth out the ups and downs of a pain-stress cycle?

By learning how to evoke the relaxation response system, you can deactivate the fight or flight adrenaline response system that triggers more pain. In 1978, the relaxation response was scientifically proven by studying the effects of meditation on the human body. During the period of meditative relaxation, oxygen consumption reduces, carbon dioxide elimination reduces, and the respiratory rate reduces. In others words, the body slows down when it is in a state of relaxation.

Two key ingredients are necessary to stop the freight train of an everyday thought pattern with the relaxation response. First, one must repeat a word, sound, prayer, thought, phrase or muscular activity. This repetition interrupts your normal, swirling thought process. Next if other thoughts intrude the repetitious pattern, passively return to the repetition by dismissing the other thought with an oh well.
If you keep this repetition going for ten to twenty minutes, you will begin to experience the power of meditation. With more practice and regularity, the relaxation response becomes very powerful.

What kind of power can meditation have besides slowing down oxygen consumption? Regularly evoking the relaxation response can change gene expression. The messages translated from the genetic code change to the point that oxygen consumption reduces, cell death is delayed, and inflammation is reduced. Some of these changes can be seen using the latest brain imaging technology. Areas of the brain change during the relaxation response. And speaking of brains, the brains of those who meditate are thicker than those who do not meditate. Now that is some pretty serious power-the power of relaxation

If your pain cycles with your stress levels, maybe you should consider finding ways to turn off your fight or flight response system. Meditation is not the only way to counteract stress and turn on the powerful relaxation response system. Many types of repetition activities can be effective like knitting, playing an instrument, mindful-breathing, prayer, and exercise. Any daily habit that interrupts your everyday stressful thought pattern and promotes relaxation can help you reduce the intensity levels of your pain.

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.