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Mindfulness and Meditation – What is it and how can it help my pelvic floor pain?

Uncategorized Jun 08, 2020

Human beings are very often on the go with a million and one things on our mind as we try to navigate all our daily expectations. We are constantly thinking of “what do I need to do next?”, which can very much lead to either thinking in future terms or becoming increasingly overwhelmed with an occasional “oh I can’t believe I forgot!” fill-in-the-blank. Take these already overwhelming expectations and add pelvic floor dysfunction and pain to the mix.

When working with my patients, the vast majority are pleasantly surprised to find that we will be making mindfulness a tool on their journey to healing. But the real question is what does mindfulness have to do with my pelvic floor?

The treatment of chronic pelvic pain, including vaginismus, dyspareunia, interstitial cystitis, and irritable bowel syndrome, were traditionally treated with a biomedical approach consisting of addressing impairments at the physical level. However, pain is now understood to consist of multi-factorial components, including physiological, psychological, and psychosocial factors, such as stress and anxiety (Dunkley and Brotto, 2016). This means that we cannot just address the pelvic floor muscles through stretches and strengthening. We must also address thought processes and emotions that are contributing to chronic pain.

Mindfulness is the process of consciously bringing your attention to your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and body. At our clinic, we utilize mindfulness to determine whether a patient is experiencing more positive or negative messages, acknowledge and redirect negative thought processes, and develop effective tools to reduce stress and anxiety.

A systematic review and meta-analysis, which is one of the highest levels of evidence-based practice, explored the use of mindfulness-based therapy in treating somatization disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Thirteen randomized controlled trials were assessed and found a small to moderate positive effect of mindfulness-based therapy on somatization disorders, including decreased pain, symptoms severity, depression, and anxiety with the additional benefit of improving quality of life. Mindfulness base therapy was most effective for IBS regarding improvement in quality of life, pain, and symptoms severity (Shaheen and Kerry, 2013)!

Another systematic review and meta-analysis looked at meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being whereby meditation was characterized as “mindfulness,” “concentration,” and “automatic self-transcendence”. The researchers wanted to determine the effects of meditation on negative affect, such as stress and anxiety, positive affect, mental health as it relates to quality of life, attention, pain, and “health-related behaviors affected by stress”, such as sleep and eating (Goyal et al., 2014).

Researchers found that “mindfulness meditation programs, in particular, show small improvements in anxiety, depression and pain” and “small improvements in stress/distress and the mental health component of health-related quality of life”. Mindfulness based stress reduction was also found to reduce pain severity (Goyal et al., 2014).

A review article also found that mindfulness can be beneficial in the treatment of chronic pelvic pain in women. A key goal of mindfulness consists of “reshaping ways of thinking” that improve emotional well-being. This research supports that a higher level of mindfulness means a better ability to regulate well-being by utilizing “greater emotion awareness, understanding, acceptance, and ability to correct or repair unpleasant mood states”, which can contribute to long-term good mental health. Additionally, mindfulness can help an individual cope with daily stressors and may prevent stress-related illness. Overall, mindfulness is associated with increased parasympathetic nervous system activation (the “rest and digest” counterpart to the “fight or flight” part of our nervous system) that can reduce tension and irritability in our tissues, such as the pelvic floor. (Paiva and Carneiro, 2013).

Overall, mindfulness has been found to be “particularly effective in helping patients to manage chronic pain” (Shaheen and Kerry, 2013). While it is not an all-in-one fix for chronic pelvic pain, research has shown that mindfulness can have a wonderfully positive effect on quality of life and well-being, as well as reduce stress, anxiety, and pain! If you are experiencing chronic pain, please consider incorporating some form of mindfulness into your daily routine and enjoy its benefits.

For free handouts on how to start a Mindfulness & Meditation Practice click the link below:

Free Handouts

 

Reference List

Dunkley, C., & Brotto, L. (2016). Psychological Treatments for Provoked Vestibulodynia: Integration of Mindfulness‐Based and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 72(7), 637-650.

Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E., Gould, N., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., Berger, Z., Sleicher, D., Maron, D., Shihab, H., Ranasinghe, P., Linn, S., Saha, S., Bass, E., & Haythornthwaite, J. (2014). Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357-368.

Paiva, S., & Carneiro, M. (2013). Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the Treatment of Chronic Pelvic Pain in Women: What Is the Evidence?. ISRN Pain, 2013,

Shaheen E., L., & Kerry L., S. (2013). Mindfulness-Based Therapies in the Treatment of Somatization Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE, 8(8), e71834

 

Written By: Dr. Jordan Lindblom, PT, DPT

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