A mindful ‘body scan’ can be a powerful pain-relief tool

The meditation helps the brain observe sensations with less discomfort

Alliah Czarielle avatar

by Alliah Czarielle |

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My husband, Jared, and I have been binge-watching “House” lately. Watching this mid-2000s medical drama as a couple living with chronic and mental illness is a fascinating experience, since we’re no strangers to hospitals and medical procedures.

One of the episodes we found compelling featured a girl who felt no pain. House diagnosed her with the rare congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA), which makes her unable to feel pain or extreme temperatures. As a result, she gets into accidents frequently, often without realizing it. Her everyday routine involves having to check her temperature constantly for signs of possible illness and to scrutinize her entire body for any inadvertent injuries.

Her life lies in stark contrast to Jared’s. The bleeding episodes he has because of his severe hemophilia B are almost always a source of discomfort. He describes his pain as ranging from barely noticeable to severe and debilitating, depending on the type of bleed and its location.

Still, it’s pain. And as with any uncomfortable sensation, it tends to put a damper on his everyday life and mood.

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If I had superpowers, would I take away my son’s chronic pain?

Managing pain with mindfulness techniques

Recently, Jared experienced a rogue bleed in his hand. Upon noticing it, he performed his usual treatment routine: a factor IX infusion, followed by as much rest as he could manage.

The pain that followed was familiar, as he’d encountered it multiple times before. It wasn’t the worst kind of pain, but it was definitely annoying, especially when he needed to work with his hands. Typing, preparing food, or even the simple act of taking out his phone or keys proved a challenge.

But one thing stood out about this particular experience. He told me that he’d tried out some mindfulness techniques in his idle time to keep the bothersome sensations in check. To his surprise, these techniques changed the way he perceived his pain, for the better.

Pain can be a stressful experience, especially if it’s chronic or occurring over a long time. It can affect a person physically and mentally.

Yet pain in itself is not entirely negative. It serves as the body’s “built-in alarm system,” signaling that something might be wrong. Pain, in fact, is essential for human survival. Without it, we’d be like the “House” character with CIPA, unaware of any dangers we may face.

To bridge the disconnect between these polarizing characteristics of pain, one must learn to detach from it emotionally. The “body scan” meditation, a mindfulness technique Jared learned, is designed to accomplish this goal.

Instead of viewing pain through a negative lens, the body scan asks that we merely observe it. First, we focus on our breath to anchor ourselves in the present moment. Then we tune in to the different sensations in our body, taking care not to pass any judgment.

As Jared meditated through the pain of his hand bleed, he approached it with curiosity, carefully observing every sensation. He noted the intensity of every throb and the pattern it appeared to produce. He noticed whether it was a radiating or “pulling” pain. At times when the pain got too much, he rode into the discomfort and made comedic sounds. Then he’d start the meditation again.

Through mindfulness meditation, Jared cultivated acceptance, allowing pain to exist without resistance.

Jared acknowledges that it’s sometimes tough to remember to practice mindfulness, especially when he’s already in the throes of pain. Still, it’s helpful to make mindfulness a deliberate habit to prevent linking pain with discomfort and stress.

For Jared, mindfulness helped remind him that pain isn’t merely a nuisance. It’s also a helpful gauge of the recovery progress. And in this sense, pain can also be a friend.

Note: Hemophilia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Hemophilia News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to hemophilia.


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