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Mindfulness and pain reduction

Living with chronic pain can feel unbearable. And, as if the pain weren’t enough on its own, worries about the future can dominate your thoughts: “What if it doesn’t get any better?”, “How will I cope if I can’t work?”, “Will I have to live with this pain for the rest of my life?”

Vidyamala Burch, author of Living Well with Pain and Illness, calls this additional layer of stress ‘secondary suffering’:

When you are experiencing ongoing pain or a long-term illness, suffering occurs on two levels. There’s the actual unpleasant sensations felt in the body – the primary suffering. Then there’s the secondary suffering which is made up of all the thoughts, feelings and memories associated with the pain ... which often leads to depression, anxiety and tension.”

The good news is that you can use mindfulness techniques to gain control over this secondary suffering. What’s less obvious – until you examine the science behind chronic pain – is that you can also use mindfulness techniques to reduce your mind’s sensitivity to your physical pain.

The mind’s sensitivity to pain

Danny Penman Ph.D, writing on Psychology Today, describes how the nervous system of a person living with chronic pain becomes highly sensitised to the pain messages it receives from the body:

“...the human mind does not simply feel pain, it also processes the information that it contains. It teases apart all of the different sensations to try to find their underlying causes so that you can avoid further pain or damage to the body. In effect, the mind zooms in on your pain for a closer look as it tries to find a solution to your suffering. This ‘zooming-in’ amplifies pain.”

Using mindfulness techniques, you can learn to turn the volume on this amplifier down. Danny Penman writes:

“It is possible to learn to step aside from suffering and begin to handle pain very differently indeed. In effect, mindfulness hands back to you the volume control for your pain.”

Find out more...

To find out more about mindfulness and pain reduction, read the following books:

  • Living well with pain and illness, The mindful way to free yourself from suffering, by Vidyamala Birch

  • Mindfulness for Health, A practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing, by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman.

Jill Kerr says...

Find out about more about the benefits of mindfulness and Gillian’s one-to-one mindfulness coaching sessions at Therap-Ease here – or you can email Gillian on

To book a private mindfulness coaching session, call Therap-Ease on 0131 447 9990 – or go online to book.

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