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What Hinduism Can Offer To Help With Your Pain: Part 7

July 2nd, 2007 · No Comments

This post is part of a series on how Hinduism views pain and suffering. Today we’ll look at What Do Researchers Find When They Put Acceptance To The Test As A Way To Cope With Pain?

Acceptance of chronic pain is defined by pain researcher Lance McCracken as living with pain without reaction, disapproval, or attempts to reduce or avoid it. Importantly, acceptance involves a disengagement from struggling with pain, a realistic approach to pain and pain-related circumstances, and an engagement in positive everyday activities. This idea is similar to the Hindu goals of equanimity and detachment.

Mindfulness meditation is related to acceptance in that it focuses on your current state (including pain) and neutrally accepts that state. What do researchers find when they study how these concepts help people cope with pain? Here are 3 studies…

Study 1:
90 patients with pain went through a 10-week program of mindfulness treatment. They showed significant improvements in pain, body image, activity, mood, and medication consumption. These positive results were still there 15 months later.

Study 2:
This study looked at how acceptance helps with experimental pain. Group 1 was taught an acceptance-based strategy, while Group 2 was taught a cognitive control-based strategy for coping with experimentally-induced shocks.

The acceptance-based strategy participants showed significantly higher tolerance to pain, and a majority of subjects continued the experiment when they experienced a “very much pain” rating. In contrast, the cognitive control-based strategy produced a greater reduction in their ratings of pain for individual shocks. However, when they experienced more pain, they tolerated this less well, and more of this group stopped the experiment when they reached a “very much pain” rating.

The researchers concluded that avoiding and trying to control pain (cognitive control-based strategies) are not effective when attempting to manage intense or longer-lasting pain.

Study 3:
This study was the most interesting in my view. It again looked at an acceptance strategy compared with a control strategy. To create pain, subjects put their hands in cold water. (Just as McDonalds now has to warn that the coffee is hot, please don’t put your hand on ice at home – it’s cold!)

Subjects in the acceptance group were instructed to notice their thoughts and feelings, but not allow these to control their actions. For example, a thought such as, I can’t stand this pain, might occur, but subjects were instructed to only observe their thoughts and not act on them, for example, by removing their hands from the cold water.

In contrast, subjects in the control-based section were told that various techniques to control their thoughts and feelings could help them cope with pain. These techniques included positive self-talk, controlled breathing, positive imagery, and body focusing. For example, the subjects were told that focusing on a pleasant scene could be used when experiencing pain.

Results showed that subjects in the acceptance group demonstrated greater tolerance of pain, being able to keep their hands in cold water longer. And this wasn’t because the acceptance group found the experience less unpleasant – both groups rated the experience equally unpleasant. The acceptance strategy helped them not be controlled by pain.

So what do these studies mean to you? Acceptance is a worthwhile attitude to cultivate. Certainly, it takes a lot of practice, but it may help you feel less controlled by pain, and better able to live fully, despite pain. I don’t believe that it’s necessary to throw out other strategies, such as breathing, positive imagery, etc. These are good, too, and I certainly teach them to my patients. However, when pain levels remain high, acceptance, instead of fighting and panic, may help you more.

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