Pilot study shows meditation may help veterans manage chronic pain

Results from a recent pilot study suggest the practice of meditation may help U.S. veterans manage chronic pain. Results are published in Military Behavioral Health.

According to a press release, the study, conducted at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Washington, D.C., found veterans who practiced meditation reported a 20% reduction in pain intensity, as well as a reduction in pain interference, or how pain interferes with everyday aspects of life including sleep, mood and activity level. These reductions were consistent across methods commonly used by doctors to measure patient pain.

“Meditation allows a person to accept pain and to respond to pain with less stress and emotional reactivity. Our theory is that this process increases coping skills, which in turn can help veterans to self-manage their chronic pain,” Thomas Nassif, PhD, professorial lecturer in American University’s Department of Health Studies, researcher at the D.C. VA Medical Center and lead author of the study, said in the release.

The study utilized a form of mindfulness meditation called Integrative Restoration Yoga Nidra, or iRest. iRest has been cited by the Army surgeon general’s Pain Management Task Force as a tier I intervention for managing pain in military and veteran populations.

The pilot study included nine male veterans who served in combat and returned to the United States with chronic pain and moderate traumatic brain injury. Four participants received iRest meditation treatment and five did not. Those in the meditation group attended meditation sessions twice weekly at the D.C. VA Medical Center and were given iRest recordings for additional self-practice.

After 8 weeks, participants in the meditation group said they had acquired useful mindfulness skills that empowered them to use meditation as a tool to help manage their pain.

“In many cases, primary care physicians are the ones expected to help individuals overcome their chronic pain,” Nassif said. “One of the most commonly used tools we have in our toolbox is opioids. Veterans in this study, and many who come to meditation sessions, find that opioid medication is a short-term solution. Meditation could be a useful tool to help veterans manage their pain over the long term.”



Nassif T, et al. Mil Behav Health. 2015;doi:10.1080/21635781.2015.1119772


Disclosure: Please see the full study for a list of all authors’ relevant financial disclosures.

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