Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) are cancers that start in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made. They begin with an abnormal mutation (change) in a stem cell in the bone marrow. Many people who live with MPNs experience pain. The most common pain-related symptoms include abdominal (belly) pain and bone or joint pain.
For some people, these blood cancers bring on new aches. For others, MPNs can worsen existing chronic pain.
There are many medications and alternative therapies that can help manage MPN-related pain. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find the right treatment. More than 4 out of 10 people with MPNs say they are unhappy with their pain management plan.
For many people with cancer, different forms of meditation can help relieve pain symptoms, ease treatment side effects, and improve well-being. There are several different types of meditation, and many people with MPNs use these techniques as a way to manage aches and discomfort.
The word “meditation” includes a wide variety of different practices and techniques. Originally, meditation was a religious or spiritual practice that helped people reach enlightenment, better understand themselves, or contemplate the world around them.
Now, meditation is also used as a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that can lead to better mental and physical health.
Meditation usually involves a few different features:
About 1 out of 7 adults in the United States has used some form of meditation, according to a 2017 health survey.
Meditation has a very positive impact on the mind. People who meditate often have a greater ability to focus on the present, stronger stress management skills, the ability to see stressful situations from a different perspective, and more patience and creativity. Additionally, meditation can help improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Meditation can lead to better physical health as well. Research is ongoing, but some studies show that meditation may help:
Although meditation offers many benefits, it can’t be substituted for medical treatment, lifestyle changes (such as eating a balanced diet or getting more physical activity), or any advice from your health care team. Meditation is a practice that can be added to these other health-building activities.
There are many different meditation practices that a person with an MPN can try. Some of these may overlap with each other or go by different names. Meditation can include:
Researchers are increasingly studying the impact that meditation practices can have on pain. They are beginning to find that meditation can be a part of a good pain management plan, particularly for people with cancer.
Researchers have conducted many studies that have shown that meditation can decrease chronic pain or pain caused by various health conditions. These effects can be long-lasting.
Some studies also show that meditation may not directly reduce pain but can help a person better live with it. People who meditate tend to have fewer symptoms of depression and improved quality of life.
Scientists are still learning how meditation works to relieve pain. Some research shows that this technique causes changes in brain regions that are responsible for processing how we feel pain. These changes can make pain feel less intense.
Many experts recommend CAM therapies such as meditation in addition to more traditional pain-relieving treatments for people with cancer. These treatments can help support mental health, lessen symptoms, improve physical function, lead to a better quality of life, and reduce levels of cancer biomarkers (molecules that serve as signs of cancer).
So far, only a couple of studies have been conducted in groups of people with MPNs looking at the potential benefits of meditation.
People with MPNs often use CAM therapies alongside their other medical treatments. In a recent survey, researchers asked people with MPNs about which integrative medicine treatments they used. The researchers found:
In this study, people with an MPN who used meditation or yoga practices were not more likely to have improved symptoms or quality of life.
However, other studies have uncovered some benefits:
More clinical trials are needed to better understand how different forms of meditation can help treat MPN symptoms, including pain. Currently, researchers are recruiting people with MPNs for a new study that will examine whether a mindfulness meditation program can help improve quality of life.
The simplest way to meditate as a beginner is to find a quiet, calm place where you won’t be distracted. Sit in a comfortable position, close or relax your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Choose one thing to focus on, such as your breath or an object like a candle. Try to keep concentrating on that one thing. When your thoughts wander, bring them back and begin focusing again.
It helps to start small. Try meditating for five minutes every day, or a couple of times per week. Once that starts to feel more comfortable, try meditating more often or for longer periods of time.
Beginning a meditation journey may feel intimidating, but many resources can help. You may also want to try:
On myMPNteam, the social network for people with myeloproliferative neoplasms, more than 2,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MPNs.
Have you tried meditation? Has it helped alleviate your pain? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.