Reduce Pain in Children with Mind-Body Practices
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Guided imagery is a meditative process that uses visualization and imagination to bring awareness to the mind-body connection. Children can easily access this healing process because they’re naturally imaginative. By relaxing into a vivid story they gain tools to deal with stress, pain or difficult feelings.” – Catherine Gillespie-Lopes
We all have to deal with pain. It’s inevitable, but hopefully it’s mild and short lived. For a wide swath of humanity, however, pain is a constant in their lives. At least 100 million adult Americans have chronic pain conditions. Sadly, about a quarter to a third of children experience chronic pain. It has to be kept in mind that pain is an important signal that there is something wrong or that damage is occurring. This signals that some form of action is needed to mitigate the damage. This is an important signal that is ignored at the individual’s peril. So, in dealing with pain, it’s important that pain signals not be blocked or prevented. They need to be perceived. But, methods are needed to mitigate the psychological distress produced by chronic pain.
The most common treatment for chronic pain is drugs. These include over-the-counter analgesics and opioids. But opioids are dangerous and prescription opioid overdoses kill more than 14,000 people annually. The use of drugs in children is even more complicated and potentially directly harmful or could damage the developing brain. So, there is a great need to find safe and effective ways to lower the psychological distress and improve children’s ability to cope with the pain.
Pain involves both physical and psychological issues. The stress, fear, and anxiety produced by pain tends to elicit responses that actually amplify the pain. So, reducing the emotional reactions to pain may be helpful in pain management. There is an accumulating volume of research findings to demonstrate that mind-body therapies have highly beneficial effects on the health and well-being of humans. These include meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, hypnosis, acupuncture, and deep breathing exercises. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve emotion regulation producing more adaptive and less maladaptive responses to emotions. Indeed, mindfulness practices are effective in treating pain in adults. But there is very little systematic study of the application of these practices for the treatment of chronic pain in children.
In today’s Research News article “A Mind–Body Approach to Pediatric Pain Management.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5483625/, Brown and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the use of mind-body techniques to treat pain in children. They found that there is clear evidence from the research that yoga practice and acupuncture are effective in the treatment of pain in both adults and children. On the other hand, they found that meditation, mindfulness training, and hypnosis are effective for treating pain in adults, but that there is a void of research for its application in children.
Hence the published research literature is encouraging. Where there have been studies, mind-body practices have been found to safely and effectively reduce chronic pain in both adults and children. A great advantage of these treatments is that they have little or no side effects other than positive ones and are thus a promising safe alternative to the use of dangerous drugs. But, there is obviously a need for much more research on the effectiveness of mind-body techniques for chronic pain in children.
So, reduce pain in children with mind-body practices.
“Mindfulness provides a more accurate perception of pain . . . For instance, you might think that you’re in pain all day. But bringing awareness to your pain might reveal that it actually peaks, valleys and completely subsides. One of Goldstein’s clients believed that his pain was constant throughout the day. But when he examined his pain, he realized it hits him about six times a day. This helped to lift his frustration and anxiety.” – Margarita Tartakovsky
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Brown, M. L., Rojas, E., & Gouda, S. (2017). A Mind–Body Approach to Pediatric Pain Management. Children, 4(6), 50. http://doi.org/10.3390/children4060050
Pain is a significant public health problem that affects all populations and has significant financial, physical and psychological impact. Opioid medications, once the mainstay of pain therapy across the spectrum, can be associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) guidelines recommend that non-opioid pain medications are preferred for chronic pain outside of certain indications (cancer, palliative and end of life care). Mindfulness, hypnosis, acupuncture and yoga are four examples of mind–body techniques that are often used in the adult population for pain and symptom management. In addition to providing significant pain relief, several studies have reported reduced use of opioid medications when mind–body therapies are implemented. Mind–body medicine is another approach that can be used in children with both acute and chronic pain to improve pain management and quality of life.