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Mindfulness and Chronic Pelvic Pain

Mindful awareness has been defined as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding experience, moment by moment.” Kabat Mindful awareness can be cultivated through training in sitting meditation, mindful body scan, walking meditation and mindful movement. Over the past 3 decades, a growing body of research has identified multiple health benefits from training in mindful awareness. Keng, Lakhan, La Cour One pilot study evaluated the feasibility and efficacy of an 8-week mindfulness program for patients with chronic pelvic pain. Fox Pre- and post-assessments included daily pain scores, the Short Form-36 Health Status Inventory, Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Score and the Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology. Upon program completion, participants reported significant improvement in daily maximum pain scores, physical function, mental health, social function and mindfulness scores. These pilot results are positive and promising.

In my experience, mindfulness gives patients the skillful awareness necessary to self-regulate their reactions to pain and stress. Many of these reactions are maladaptive and amplify distress and pain. With training in mindfulness, patients are able to observe physical, cognitive and emotional reactions to pain and stress and adopt healthy choices that de-escalate suffering. I am excited to share my 30 years of experience and training in mindful awareness and its application to patient care and provider self-care through my 2-day course with Herman & Wallace. Join me at "Mindfulness Based Pain Treatment: A Biopsychosocial Approach to the Treatment of Chronic Pain" on January 16-17, 2016 in Silverdale, WA.


1. Kabat Zinn, J.Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness. 2013, 2nd ed. New York: Bantam.
2. Keng, S.L., Smoski M.J., Robins, C.J. Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev, 2011;31(6), pp. 1041-56.
3. Lakhan, S.E., Schofield, K.L. Mindfulness-based therapies in the treatment of somatization disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One, 2013;8(8), e71834.
4. La Cour, P., Petersen, M., 2014. Effects of mindfulness meditation on chronic pain: A randomized controlled trial. Pain Med, Nov 7. doi: 10.1111/pme.12605.
5. Fox, SD, Flynn E, Allen RH. Mindfulness meditation for women with chronic pelvic pain: a pilot study. J Reprod Med, 2011;56(3-4):158-62.

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What is "Mindfulness" and How Does Mindfulness Work?

Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA is the author and instructor of "Mindfulness Based Pain Treatment: A Biopsychosocial Approach to the Treatment of Chronic Pain". Carolyn is a specialist in managing chronic pain, and has incorporated mindfulness meditation into her practice for more than 2 decades. Today she is sharing her experience by analyzing some of the most foundational research in the field of mindfulness and meditation.

Mindfulness awareness has been described as the sustained attention to present moment awareness while adopting attitudes of acceptance, friendliness and curiosity. (1,2) In patients with persistent pain, mindfulness has shown to reduce pain intensity, anxiety and depression and in improve quality of life. (3,4) Researchers suggest that mindful awareness may work through 4 mechanisms: attention regulation, increased body awareness, enhanced emotional regulation and changes in perspective on self. (5)

1. Attention Regulation: In chronic pan populations, improved attention regulation has been suggested to result in less negative appraisal of pain, greater pain acceptance and reduced pain anticipation. (6)

2. Body Awareness: Improved body awareness has been shown to help patients with chronic pain recognize the difference between muscle tension and relaxation, identify early warning signs that precede a pain flare and reduce maladaptive reactions to pain. (7)

3. Emotional regulation: Training in mindful awareness has been shown to enhance emotional regulation, improve mood and reduce anxiety and depression in patients with chronic pain. (6, 7, 8)

4. Changes in Perspective on Self: In a qualitative study, participants with chronic pain reported becoming less identified with their pain condition or diagnostic label. (7) They felt less “fragmented, experienced a greater integration of mind any body and described the experience of wellness even though they had a persistent pain condition.

I constantly see these changes in my patients who learn to be mindful. Empowered with a skillful way to pay attention, they have greater control over the direction of their mind and thoughts and an increase in body awareness that promotes the ability to relax and the self-regulation of their stress reaction. They avoid escalating distressing emotions and experience a renewed feeling of wholeness and well-being. I am delighted to share my training and experience in mindfulness and years of teaching mindfulness to patients in persistent pain through Herman and Wallace continuing education programs.


1. Kabat Zinn, J., 2013. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness. 2nd ed. New York: Bantam.
2. Bishop, S.R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., et al., 2004. Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3), pp. 230–41.
3. Lakhan, S.E., Schofield, K.L., 2013. Mindfulness-based therapies in the treatment of somatization disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One, 8(8), e71834.
4. Reiner, K., Tibi, L., Lipsitz, J.D., 2013. Do mindfulness-based interventions reduce pain intensity? A critical review of the literature. Pain Med, 14(2), pp. 230-42.
5. Holzel, B.K., Lazar, S.W., Guard, T., et al., 2011. How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective. Perspect Psychol Science, 6, pp. 537–59.
6. Brown, C.A., Jones, A.K., 2013. Psychobiological correlates of improved mental health in patients with musculoskeletal pain after a mindfulness based pain management program. Clin J Pain, 29(3), pp. 233-44.
7. Doran, N.J., 2014. Experiencing wellness within illness: Exploring a mindfulness-based approach to chronic back pain. Qual Health Res, 24(6), pp. 749-60.
8. Song, Y., Lu H., Chen H., et al. Mindfulness intervention in the management of chronic pain and psychological comorbidity: A meta-analysis. Int J Nurs Sci, 1(2), pp.215-23.

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Mindful Awareness

This November, Herman & Wallace is thrilled to be offering a brand-new course instructed by Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA, called Mindfulness-Based Biopsychosocial Approach to Chronic Pain. This course will be offered November 15-16, 2014 in Seattle, WA. We sat down with Carolyn to learn more about her course.

Carolyn McManus

The constant flood of information in today’s interconnected, wired world trains the mind in distraction and away from the immediate experience of life. Many people spend hours gazing down at quickly changing images on the small frame of an electronic device and only notice the body when it has its aches and pains! Mindful awareness offers us a skillful way to pay attention, build body awareness, touch life fully and provides a healing antidote to information overload.

Mindful awareness invites us to rest the mind in the present moment with openness, friendliness and curiosity. This is not our natural tendency and requires training. Often we are caught in a struggle with the present moment, perceive it as flawed, find fault with ourselves and constantly drive ourselves to run, do and achieve. When mindful, we still have our plans, goals and to-do list, but this is not an obstacle to resting the mind here and now. We can stop the struggle with the present moment, touch life fully and open to the potential for ease and insight in the midst of things just as they are. New perceptions and an experience of aliveness can occur that can never happen when we are lost in distraction. Danna Faulds expresses this beautifully in her poem "Walk Slowly":

It only takes a reminder to breathe,
a moment to be still, and just like that,
something in me settles, softens, makes
space for imperfection. The harsh voice
of judgment drops to a whisper and I
remember again that life isn’t a relay
race; that we all will cross the finish
fine; that waking up to life is what we
were born for. As many times as I forget to catch myself charging forward
without even knowing where I am going,
that many times I can make the choice
to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk
slowly into the mystery.

I began practicing mindfulness meditation to help manage stress and heal from a back injury. I found the practice easily translated to patient care and helped my patients build body awareness, detach from maladaptive thinking habits and experience inner calm and relaxation. They gained insight into the reactions, behaviors and situations that escalated and de-escalated their symptoms. Research shows that mindfulness improves attention regulation and executive function, body awareness and emotional regulation. (1) I am excited to share with my colleagues what I have learned through the practice of mindfulness and its applications to both self-care and patient care in my November course.

Learn more about Carolyn's course and join her this November in Seattle to attend her Mindfulness course!

1. Holzel BK, Lazar SW, Guard T, et al. How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective. Perspect Psychol Science. 2011;6: 537–559.

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Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

This post was written by H&W instructor Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA. Carolyn will be instructing the course that she wrote on "Mindfulness-Based Biopsychosocial Approach to the Treatment of Chronic Pain" in Seattle this November.

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I have taught Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction at Swedish Medical Center (SMC) since 1998. Over the years I have had many healthcare providers take the course and have long thought it would be wonderful to tailor a program specifically for healthcare professionals. I had the opportunity to do so this summer when, along with my colleague Diane Hetrick, PT, we designed and taught Mindfulness and Compassion Cultivation Training for physicians at SMC. The course was a great success. Physicians reported one of the most popular components of the program were our “on the spot” mindful practices. These are simple, easy-to-do strategies that any provider can employ to center, calm the body and steady the mind during a busy workday. They not only help reduce stress, but can influence brain activation to promote better decision making.

Research shows, under stress conditions, the amygdala activates stress pathways in hypothalamus and brainstem, evoking high levels of noradrenaline and dopamine release, impairing prefrontal cortex function. (1) Research also shows mindful practices reduce stress-related brain activity and improve executive functioning. (2, 3) I am delighted to share these powerful and practical “on the spot” mindful practices in my November course. My intention is for participants to have mindfulness skills to use for their own well-being the minute they walk in their clinic door on Monday.

Learn more about Carolyn's course Mindfulness-Based Biopsychosocial Approach to Chronic Pain and join her in Seattle this fall!

1. Arnsten AF. Stress signaling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nat Rev Neurosci 2009:10(6):410-422.

2. Holzel BK, Carmody J, Evans KC, et al. Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2010;5(1):11–17.

3. van den Hurk PA, Giommi F, Gielen SC, et al. Greater efficiency in attentional processing related to mindfulness meditation. Q J Exp Psychol (Hove) 2010;63(6);1168–1180.

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Stress and its Influence on Pain

This blog was written by Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA, who will be presenting at the APTA's Virtual NEXT conference in North Carolina. Carolyn is instructing a new course with Mindfulness-Based Biopsychosocial Approach to Chronic Pain. This course will be offered November 15-16, 2014 in Seattle, WA.

Carolyn McManus

We all know a highly stressed patient will have a more complicated and prolonged healing process than a non-stressed patient. Recent research is finally illuminating possible mechanisms causing the amplification of pain by stress. For example, stress has been shown to enhance muscle nociceptor activity in rats. (1) In this study, water avoidance stress produced mechanical hyperalgesia in skeletal muscle and a significant decrease in the mechanical threshold of muscle nocicpetors, a nearly two fold increase in the number of action potentials produced by a fixed intensity stimulus and an increase in conduction velocity from 1.25 m/s to 2.09 m/s! Researchers suggest these effects are due, at least in part, to catecholamines and glucocorticoids acting on adrenergic and glucocorticoid receptors on sensory neurons.

I always talk about this study with my patients who have persistent pain. It helps them understand that pain can escalate, not because of tissue damage, but because of the effects of stress hormones on their nerves. They understand that if they persist in escalating their stress reaction they will limit their healing potential. There is more research on this topic and strategies to help patients self-regulate their stress reaction that I look forward to discussing in my upcoming course in November.

1. Chen X , Green PG, Levine JD. Stress enhances muscle nociceptor activity in the rat. Neuroscience 2011;185:166-73.

Learn more about Carolyn's course Mindfulness-Based Biopsychosocial Approach to Chronic Pain

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Treating Chronic Pain with a Mindfulness- Based Biopsychosocial Approach

Carolyn McManus

This November, Herman & Wallace is thrilled to be offering a brand-new course instructed by Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA, called Mindfulness-Based Biopsychosocial Approach to Chronic Pain. This course will be offered November 15-16, 2014 in Seattle, WA. We sat down with Carolyn to learn more about her course.

What inspired you to create this course?

I want to improve the lives of people with chronic pain and help my colleagues be successful in providing care to this often challenging patient population. With my academic training in both PT and psychology, my longstanding mindfulness meditation practice and over 25 years specializing in the care of people with chronic pain, I have a wealth of information and a wide range of practical skills to share with my colleagues.

Among my co-workers at Swedish Medical Center, I learned that those who liked working with patients with persistent pain felt they had something to offer that would help. Those who did not like this patient population felt there was nothing they could do to make a difference in the lives of these patients. I want physical therapists to have the skills and confidence to make a difference and improve the lives of people with chronic pain. I want others to know the same feeling of reward I feel when I have made that difference.

I have had colleagues comment to me that although they understand the basic principles of chronic pain, they do not feel confident to explain pain to patients or talk about the role of stress, cognitions and emotions in amplifying pain. I want to give my colleagues the language to do just that. I do not mean stepping beyond our comfort zone or scope of practice, but rather to offer patients a basic framework for the mind body relationship, based in neuroscience, that can change a patient’s attitude and belief system about pain.

I also want to introduce my colleagues to mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to rest the mind in the present moment with an open, friendly, curious attitude. This skillful way to pay attention has made an enormous difference in my personal and professional life and in my patient’s lives. Although it takes years of training to teach mindfulness meditation, any healthcare provider can draw on the basic principles of mindfulness to support a patient’s well being and healing.

What resources and research were used when writing this course?

I track the pain literature closely and am especially interested in how the brain changes with chronic pain and the role of stress, emotions and cognitive variables in contributing to chronic pain conditions. PTs are highly skilled to address the nociceptive component of a patient’s pain complaints. As our understanding of chronic pain has broadened to include principles of central sensitization, structural and functional brain changes and the cognitive modulation of nociceptive input, we need to have the training and skills to address these multiple and complex components that give rise to chronic pain conditions. I draw from literature in physical therapy, pain, psychology and mindfulness meditation.

Why should a therapist take this course? How can these skill sets benefit his/ her practice?

If you ever feel overwhelmed, frustrated or challenged by patients with persistent pain conditions, this is the course for you. You will learn the about the exciting new science of pain, the amazing ways stress and cognitive modulation impacts the pain system, and how to apply mindfulness to help manage your own stress during your workday. In addition, you will be able to explain pain, the role of stress in amplifying pain, the mind-body connection and mindfulness to your patients to help empower them to maximize what they can do for themselves to promote healing and well being.

Want to learn more from Carolyn? Join us in November in Seattle!

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H&W Instructor to Present at APTA’s NEXT Conference

Carolyn McManus

This blog was written by Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA, who will be presenting at the APTA's Virtual NEXT conference in North Carolina. Carolyn is instructing a new course with Mindfulness-Based Biopsychosocial Approach to Chronic Pain. This course will be offered November 15-16, 2014 in Seattle, WA.

Last fall, I was honored to receive an invitation from the APTA’s National Conference team to contribute to this year’s Virtual NEXT programming. Virtual NEXT offers live and on-demand streaming of annual conference's signature lectures and select educational sessions, worth up to 1.6 CEUs. New this year, you can purchase presentations individually. For the price of one registration, you and your colleagues can get together and be part of a worldwide Virtual NEXT viewing party!

The title of my presentation, to be delivered on Thursday, June 12th, is “The Pain Puzzle: Empowering Your Patients to Put the Pieces Together.” I will highlight basic chronic pain neurophysiology, and briefly discuss the brain in chronic pain, stress-induced hyperalgesia and the cognitive modulation of pain. I will describe how this current evidence affects our clinical practice and suggest evidence-based treatment strategies. These will include therapeutic pain neurophysiology education and mindful awareness training. I will close with a case study that demonstrates how our treatment choices must be based on an understanding of underlying pain generating mechanisms in order to achieve success with this complex patient population.

If you cannot join me in Charlotte, North Carolina for APTA’s NEXT conference, I hope you can make an online date! For more information, go to the APTA’s NEXT Conference website:

Want to learn more from Carolyn? Join us in November in Seattle!

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Upcoming Continuing Education Courses

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