Meditation can help with back pain

Share this content:
Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

My first introduction to meditation was not in a peaceful, spa-like setting. There were no candles burning, and if there was any light music playing in the background I didn't hear it.

That's because the first time I tried meditating was in a high school phys-ed class, surrounded by 40 other sweaty, immature kids and facing constant interruptions from the PA system calling so-and-so to the principal's office. Meditation was part of the class' yoga unit, a unit I always looked forward to because a) I was an incredibly stressed out high schooler and b) it didn't involve any sprinting.

By the time the ancient VHS tape that led our yoga unit got to the meditation portion, I was usually worn out from bending like a pretzel and wondering what kind of diseases were lurking on the wrestling mats we sat on.

Physically, meditating was easy. We just lay there, trying to clear our minds and listening to the tape. Occasionally someone would giggle, but after a while the dark gym would fall silent. Our teacher probably assumed we were all getting in touch with our inner selves, releasing the stress we had built up between classes and extracurriculars and college prep.

In reality about half the class, myself included, fell asleep. I definitely left the class feeling better, but whether that was because of the meditation or because I managed to sneak a 15-minute nap into my day is up for debate.

In the years since I've tried meditation again on a few occasions, usually through free classes my college offered during finals weeks. For a chronic multi-tasker like myself, clearing my mind and focusing on the present is nearly impossible. But when I've been able to achieve it, I notice a difference how I feel afterward.

It's no surprise to me then to see the results of a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine that found meditation can offer pain relief to seniors with chronic lower back pain.

One group of seniors in the study was assigned weekly 90-minute sessions of mindful meditation, which centered on “directed breathing” and greater thought- and sensation-awareness. Those who practiced meditation had less pain and greater mobility after the 8-week study period.

Those results are promising, especially in a time when so many nursing homes are looking to better manage or decrease the number of prescription drugs used by their patients.

Is meditation a perfect cure-all for chronic pain? Of course not. But it's free, has no damaging side effects and is beneficial for a variety of ailments. For residents, meditation may help decrease pain, ease symptoms of depression and loneliness, and preserve the aging brain.

Taking a few minutes a day to meditate can benefit nursing home staff as well, helping to reduce stress from long, taxing work days, improve focus and strengthen relationships with others.

Meditation may sound daunting, but the benefits are proven. There are smart phones apps that offer guided meditations, making it easier (and probably more sanitary) than my first gym class foray into meditation was.

Worst case scenario, your meditation session may turn into an impromptu nap. But, as research has shown, you and your residents could always use a little more sleep as well.

Emily Mongan is the Staff Writer at McKnight's. Follow her @emmongan.


Next Article in Daily Editors' Notes

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.