Chronic pain plagues veterans at higher rates than almost any other population in the United States. Veterans are diagnosed with musculoskeletal pain more than any other medical condition, physical or mental. Most combat veterans who endured a traumatic brain injury (TBI) experience ongoing chronic pain. 77% of primary care practitioners report pain control as one of their top three health priorities with veterans.
Given these staggering figures, the importance of finding successful, lifelong management of chronic pain cannot be overstated. Yet finding safe, effective pain treatment can be a challenge. Using meditation to treat pain was the focus of a recent study conducted at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Participants reported a greater than 20% reduction in pain intensity. The degree to which pain interfered with participants’ everyday lives (including sleep, mood, and activity level) was also reduced by between 22% and 42%.
Study participants were trained in a type of mindfulness meditation called Integrative Restorative Yoga Nidra (iRest). iRest uses breathing techniques, guided imagery, and progressive relaxation to promote deep relaxation. VA hospitals throughout the country use iRest, but it has not been studied much. This is the first study to investigate the efficacy of iRest for chronic pain following TBI. It was a small pilot study of male combat veterans who had experienced moderate TBI and had chronic pain. Four learned iRest techniques and the other five who make up the control group did not.
Lead researcher Thomas Nassif, Ph.D., said that the participants in this study found that painkillers were only a short-term solution. The researchers and participants alike hope that meditation could be a useful tool to help veterans with long-term pain management.
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H. Nassif, T., C. Chapman, J., Sandbrink, F., O. Norris, D., L. Soltes, K., J. Reinhard, M., & R. Blackman, M. (2015). Mindfulness Meditation and Chronic Pain Management in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans With Traumatic Brain Injury: A Pilot Study. Military Behavioral Health , 1-8.
Nassif, T. H., Norris, D. O., Soltes, K. L., Sandbrink, F., Blackman, M. R., & Chapman, J. C. Using Mindfulness Meditation to Improve Pain Management in Combat Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury. Poster presented at Society of Behavioral Medicine 35 th Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions; April 23-26, 2014; Philadelphia, PA.