It is impossible to miss the craze for meditation, whether on the Internet, in magazines or on television. A simple fashion? Not only, because several scientific works have proven its benefits against stress or pain, and in particular back pain. In March 2016, a study published in the medical journal The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) has shown that meditation is more effective than pain medication from the first month of treatment.
Mindfulness meditation, a practice accessible to all
The technique studied by the researchers is that of “Mindfulness”, or “mindfulness meditation,” a traditional method stripped of its spiritual aspects. It does not require any prior knowledge: anyone can do it.
“Mindfulness meditation is simply to observe and accept everything that is happening in the body, without trying to intervene on it”, summarizes Dr. Lionel Coudron, doctor and yoga teacher.
Be careful, this is not relaxation! Meditation is an active attitude where the senses are awakened. We learn to get out of our emotions and its sensations to achieve, over the course of the practice, an inner peace.
Two mechanisms at work in chronic low back pain
Doctors have identified at least two mechanisms at work in chronic back pain, and meditation seems particularly suited to address them.
- Pain causes defense reactions in the body. Muscles, in particular, tighten to form contractures. “The person who suffers reduces their movements as much as possible and the joints stiffen”, adds Dr. Coudron. The less you move, the worse the problem becomes.
- We also know that the brain plays a major role in the chronicization of pain. Thanks to advances in brain imaging, researchers observed how the painful sensation eventually evolves on its own, fueled by stress and anxiety. It is not uncommon for the original lesion to disappear completely, but for the low back pain to persist because of these self-aggravating phenomena.
Meditation relaxes muscles and reduces pain
The study published in the JAMA compares a group of people treated with painkillers, with another panel who followed meditation sessions. The results are clear: the patients in the second group observed a 51% improvement in their pain and mobility, while the first were only relieved by 27%. Dr Coudron explains that meditating first relaxes the muscles. “The whole body relaxes,” he says.
It also allows change our relationship to pain. By accepting it, we free ourselves from negative emotions that aggravate and maintain the evil.
“Meditation reduces pain while also acting on emotional distress”, confirms Dr François Bourgognon, psychiatrist. He adds: “We learn to widen our field of attention to all the other feelings, to give less space to the painful sensation. ”
- The ideal is to sit with your back straight in a chair, but you don’t have to. “We must seek the most comfortable position, even lying down, so as not to aggravate the pain,” recommends Dr. Bourgognon. You close your eyes or fix a point on the ground, in front of you. Finally, we focus all our attention on our breathing. “It’s about observation, without trying to control,” recalls Dr. Coudron. The rhythm of breathing will subside on its own. “
- Next step : observe all the sensations that arise and the thoughts that cross our minds. “The idea is to welcome them with kindness, then to let them pass without commenting”, he explains. The pain is rated the same as the rest, taking as much distance as possible, as if it were someone else.
- Then … patience! You have to practice every day, for six to eight weeks, to be relieved. The brain is a plastic organ: the more we meditate, the more we get there. Dr Coudron advises to go gradually, starting with 10-minute sessions, then, when you feel more comfortable, gradually increasing to 20 minutes.
If we have a drug treatment, we continue it in parallel with the meditation. It is important to break the vicious cycle of pain and stress that feeds on each other. As soon as you start to feel better, you resume your usual activities, possibly adding a very gentle sport, such as swimming pool exercises.
Do not hesitate to get help
When you start meditation, it is not uncommon to ask yourself questions or encounter certain problems. Most of the time, they are about letting go. By dint of wanting to calm down at all costs, we end up tensing, getting annoyed, and we multiply negative thoughts like “I will never be able to do it” or “I have too much pain” …
The solution is to focus on your breathing again. If this seems too difficult for you, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a meditation teacher, take a course or delve into books specially written for beginners: Meditate day after day, by psychiatrist Christophe André, The art of meditation, by Matthieu Ricard, or Know how to heal, meditation in 10 questions, by Dr Bourgognon.
Three apps to start meditation:
- Small BamBou. On IOS and Android. 8 first sessions free, then € 6.99 per month.
- Meditate with Christophe André / Psychologie Magazine. On Android. € 4.99.
- Mindfulness. On Google Play and iTunes. Between € 1.79 and € 1.99.