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Half Full or Empty: A Cup of Mindfulness for Healing

After greeting a patient referred for temporomandibular joint dysfunction, the conversation began with an outpouring of emotion over a failed bladder sling surgery that left the woman with significant chronic pain, causing her to clench her jaw all the time. No matter what I was to find objectively with the examination, there was no doubt the treatment had to extend beyond joint mobilization, soft tissue work, and exercise. This woman clearly saw her cup as half empty, so filling her mind with a new approach to thinking about and dealing with her pain was essential for relieving her secondary jaw pain.

Su et al. published a study called, “Pain Perception Can Be Modulated by Mindfulness Training: A Resting-State fMRI Study” (2016). The pain-afflicted group had 18 participants while the control group had 16. Brain behavior response of all subjects was measured per resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging and 3 forms (Dallas Pain Questionnaire, Short Form McGill Pain Questionnaire-SFMPQ, and Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness) before and after 6 weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction treatment. Training consisted of mindfulness meditations such as a body scan, hatha yoga, walking and sitting meditation, and instruction on how to use the methods for pain management. After six 2.5-hour sessions/week and one 8-hour non-verbal session in the 4th week, the fMRI showed an increased connection from the anterior insular cortex (AIC) to the dorsal anterior midcingulate cortex (daMCC), and the SFMPQ scores were significantly improved in the pain-afflicted group. The authors suggested mindfulness training can change the brain connectivity responsible for our perception of pain.

Chadi et al.2016 performed a pilot study of female adolescents with chronic pain regarding the efficacy of mindfulness-based treatment. The experimental group (n=10) and the wait-list control group (n=9) consisted of girls between the ages of 13 and 18. For 8 weeks they met for a 90 minute session led by a psychiatry resident. Some of the mindfulness practices in this study included body scan, sitting and walking meditations, love and kindness meditations, mindful eating, compassion and deep listening, and breathing exercises. The wait-list control group also completed the 8-week program. Although all participants reported a positive change in the way they coped with pain, no statistically significant changes in quality of life, depression, anxiety, pain perception, and psychological distress were found. Significant salivary cortisol level improvements were observed (p<0.001) post mindful-based treatment session, indicating feasibility in pursuing further research with a larger randomized controlled trial.

Panahi and Faramarzi2016 studied mindfulness therapy effects on anxiety and depression for premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Sixty students (30 experimental, 30 control with no treatment) with mild to moderate PMS with depression underwent 8 weekly 120 minute sessions of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Mean score improvements in depression, anxiety, and PMS were statistically significant from pre to post treatment for the subjects receiving MBCT. The authors stated MBCT psychotherapy could be considered beneficial for depression in mild to moderate PMS.

If jaw-clenching chronic pain owns a patient, he or she could benefit from managing the relationship through mindfulness. Our perception of pain is at the core of “whole body” treatment. The Mindfulness Based Pain Treatment course could help fill your patients’ as well as your own cup with healing.

If you're interested in learning more about mindfulness-based treatment techniques, Herman & Wallace offers three courses which you should consider. Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment focuses on patient treatment, and the Mindfulness for Rehabilitation Professionals.


Su, I.-W., Wu, F.-W., Liang, K.-C., Cheng, K.-Y., Hsieh, S.-T., Sun, W.-Z., & Chou, T.-L. (2016). Pain Perception Can Be Modulated by Mindfulness Training: A Resting-State fMRI Study. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 570. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00570
Chadi, N., McMahon, A., Vadnais, M., Malboeuf-Hurtubise, C., Djemli, A., Dobkin, P. L., … Haley, N. (2016). Mindfulness-based Intervention for Female Adolescents with Chronic Pain: A Pilot Randomized Trial. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 25(3), 159–168.
Panahi, F., & Faramarzi, M. (2016). The Effects of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy on Depression and Anxiety in Women with Premenstrual Syndrome. Depression Research and Treatment, 2016, 9816481. http://doi.org/10.1155/2016/9816481

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