Can Your Brain Cure Your Pain?

By Jeff Forester 07/21/11

Meditation and self-hynosis continue to intrigue addiction researchers.

Relaxation response.
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As The Fix has been reporting for some time, prescription pills are now a leading cause of accidental death in America, proving to be about as lethal as street drugs. There is also the problem of addiction, particularly for those in recovery.  After a while, in rare cases, opioids can also stop working, a condition known as opioid induced hyperalgesia. But simply throwing away the pills is not the answer. Chronic pain is real, affecting an estimated 116 million Americans. One solution may lay in the mind itself, suggest researchers at Wake Forest University. Fadel Zeidan, lead author of a recent study said that "... a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation—about a 40% reduction in pain intensity and a 57% reduction in pain unpleasantness."

Holly Forester-Miller of Wellness Consultants International in Durham, SC, teaches hypnosis to manage pain, relieve alcohol craving, and treat depression. Dr. Forester-Miller herself has undergone surgery without medication. "When I have had surgery under hypnosis, it is not that I am ignoring the pain. I have turned it off."  She has had similar success with addiction. "We can use self-hypnosis to help someone reduce or even get off meds,” she says. "A lot of addiction comes from pain management or depression, and self-hypnosis can help."  But Dr. Forester-Miller offers caution with chronic pain. "It is easier to use hypnosis to deal with acute pain than it is chronic pain." One thing seems certain: More money and research will flow in the direction of hypnosis, meditation, and other mind-based therapies. Addicts have long known that the solution to chronic health related issues may often lie within rather than without.

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Jeff Forester is a writer in Minnesota. His book, Forest for the Trees: How Humans Shaped the North Woods, an ecological history of his state's famed Boundary Waters, came out in paperback in 2009. Jeff is the Executive Director of MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates MLR and you can follow him on Twitter.