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ArticlesPain

On Being Mindful

Check out my interview on Forbes.com. I promise this concept will help you someday!

Why One Orthopedic Surgeon Is Prescribing Meditation Over Medication

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it was requiring new warning labels for certain types of opioid painkillers. According to this New York Times report, “Drug overdoses now kill more people in the United States than car crashes.”

Increasingly, both doctors and patients are looking for a more holistic way of treating pain. Recent studies indicate that meditation and mindfulness may be an effective for treating pain—especially chronic pain. Meditation can empower the patients to feel they can do something to manage their pain rather than turn to painkillers.

As discussed in Forbes contributor Alice G. Walton’s article, “Mindfulness Meditation May Provide Effective Treatment For Pain:

Recent work has suggested that some 50 million people in the U.S. are dealing with severe or chronic pain, although other estimates go up to 100 million Americans. And treatment for it costs more than $600 billion a year, according to the Institute of Medicine.

Meditation makes a lot of sense for those who struggle with chronic pain. It’s readily accessible, can be practiced anywhere and doesn’t have the dangerous side effects of opioid painkillers.

I interviewed Barbara Bergin, M.D., who is recommending meditation over medication to her patients. She is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates in Austin, Texas.

Why did you start practicing recommending mindfulness and meditation to your patients?

I read an article about it in a magazine and realized it was describing what I had already been teaching my patients: that they should focus on the situations in which they do not have pain, recognize those situations and try to reproduce those painless episodes. Before reading about mindfulness, I used to tell them to live in the pain-free moment when they identified those moments.

I see a lot of patients in pain. Many of them say they are experiencing extreme pain all the time, but when I ask them if they are in pain “right now,” they often say, “No.”

What does mindfulness mean? How do you explain it to patients?

Often, when I explain mindfulness, I ask my patients to recognize pain-free periods of time in their daily life; they suddenly seem to have a eureka moment, realizing how simple it is to reproduce a pain-free state.

Why do you think it’s important for patients to practice mindfulness?

Mindfulness when it comes to pain is so important now. Doctors are trying to steer patients away from narcotic pain medications. Additionally, many patients cannot take non-steroidal anti-inflammatories because of potential side effects.

I am more and more reluctant to prescribe them on any regular basis. There are fewer and fewer options for the patients. Mindfulness is just one “modality” we can use to help our patients manage pain.

Any unexpected benefits/surprises you’ve encountered?

Just realizing how many of my patients are willing to accept that method of dealing with their pain.

Jeena Cho is the author of an upcoming book The Anxious Lawyer, An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and MeditationFollow her on Twitter: @jeena_cho

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