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Mindfulness & Meditation : Aiding Post-Back Surgery Recovery

Mind-body therapies like mindfulness and meditation are increasingly being studied and applied as legitimate medical therapies in several places. Mindfulness and meditation have shown improvement in psychological states like anxiety and depression since the early days. However, in recent years, the scope of these therapies has expanded to several aspects, one of those being their positive impact on pain, recovery time, and even wound health post-back surgery.

An Overview of the Topic

Back surgery can cause severe pain that could last for weeks, months, or longer. Traditionally Opioids have been prescribed for treating this issue, however, they are widely acknowledged to have serious side effects. Mindfulness and meditation can be included in the post-back surgery treatment plan as an alternative treatment for pain and quicker recovery.

Reading further in the article will help us know the impact of mindfulness and meditation on post-back surgery recovery.

Mindfulness Meditation: A Short Note on an Alternative Approach to Healing

Mindfulness and meditation are often considered mental exercises and techniques that can calm our minds through physiological processes.(1, 2, 3) Mindfulness and meditation require attentiveness to simple physical sensations, such as breathing, eating, or simply being. This can be used in a clinical setting where the patient is allowed or guided to imagine and mentally scan their entire body for awareness, beginning from the head and progressing to their toes. This would help them visualize the healing procedure while being aware of their body and physical sensations, including any sort of pain in their body.

Proposed Mechanisms to Explain the Effects of Mindfulness and Meditation on Post-operative Pain

Regular meditation can change the structure and function of the brain.(4) Mindfulness and meditation can reduce the activity of the amygdala, and broader limbic structures that are concerned with emotional reactions.(4) For instance, after eight weeks of a mindfulness meditation intervention, arterial spin labeling functional MRI showed some neuro-architectural changes, such as increasing grey matter concentration within the amygdala and the left hippocampus.(5) Since these regions are linked with emotional regulations, which might account for reduced levels of anxiety and improved coping reported after mindful meditation programs.(6)

One more significant benefit of mindfulness and meditation as a post-back surgery could be pain modulation. However, the exact mechanisms through which meditative practices or mindfulness regulates pain are not well-known.

The Impact of Mindfulness and Meditation on Post-Back Surgery Recovery

Mindfulness and meditation are associated with improved levels of pain, anxiety, and distress.(7) In patients practicing a guided-imagery protocol, reduced systolic blood pressure can be reported during the postoperative period.(8) Some other benefits include enhanced wound healing and shorter hospital stays.

However, the most significant impact of mindfulness and meditation on post-back surgery recovery is its benefit in pain reduction and lowering anxiety levels in patients.

Mindfulness and Meditation as Pain Treatment in Patients with Back Surgery

In an experiment described in a 2011 Journal of Neuroscience, it was mentioned that fifteen individuals were subjected to varying levels of pain via heated probes at two different points in time.(9) In between these tests, the participants participated in four 20-minute sessions of meditation training (one session every day for four consecutive days). A trained instructor conducted all these sessions.

A comparison of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) results from before and after mindfulness meditation training could identify significant changes in multiple areas of the brain along with reductions in the intensity of pain and the unpleasantness of pain. The associated regions of the brain include those that are associated with high-level executive functioning, sensory processing, and contextual evaluations. This suggests the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation as a pain treatment is dependent upon various neural mechanisms.

Mindfulness and Meditation for Addressing Anxiety in Patients with Back Surgery

Patients undergoing back surgery or any other surgery go through stress and anxiety, before, during, and after surgery. A form of mindfulness and meditation practice, i.e. MBCT, combines mindfulness meditation training with cognitive behavioral therapy elements.(10) Although MBCT was originally used to prevent relapse in patients with depression, the therapy when employed in postoperative settings is beneficial in addressing preoperative anxieties, and might also influence physical functioning and overall pain relief.

Mindfulness and meditation can be uniquely placed to address the stress and anxiety of post-back surgery. These mindfulness sessions can continue into the postoperative period and can be appropriately shaped to address anxieties caused by post-back surgery.


Mindfulness and meditation have a significant impact on post-back surgery recovery. When intervened with the medical procedure, these practices can help in pain reduction, and also in lowering anxiety and stress in patients undergoing the surgery. However, it should be noted that these mindfulness and meditative practices should not be a replacement for modern narcotics or other prescription drugs.


  1. May A, Gaser C. Magnetic resonance-based morphometry: a window into structural plasticity of the brain. Curr Opin Neurol. 2006;19:407-11.
  2. Grant JA. Meditative analgesia: The current state of the field. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2014;1307(1):55-63.
  3. Lutz A, Slagter HA, Dunne JD, Davidson RJ. Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends Cogn Sci. 2008;12(4):163-9.
  4. Wasi P. Brain and meditation. J Neurol Sci. 2009;285(1):s36.
  5. Kristeller JL. Mindfulness meditation. In: P. Lehrer, R.L. Woolfolk, & W.E. Simes. Principles and Practice of Stress Management. 2nd Edition. New York: Guildford Press. 2007;393-427.
  6. Hoge EA, Metcalf CA, Morris LK, Simon NM. Mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: effects on resilience, anxiety, and hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. ‎Psychosom Med. 2013;75(3):A-2.
  7. Nelson EA, Dowsey MM, Knowles SR, Castle DJ, Salzberg MR, Monshat K et al. Systematic review of the efficacy of pre-surgical mind-body based therapies on post-operative outcome measures. Complement Ther Med. 2013;21(6):697-711.
  8. Lin PC. An evaluation of the effectiveness of relaxation therapy for patients receiving joint-replacement surgery. J Clin Nurs. 2012;21(5-6):601-8.
  9. Zeidan F, Martucci KT, Kraft RA, Gordon NS, Mchaffie JG, Coghill RC. Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation. J Neurosci. 2011;31(14):5540-8.
  10. Tickell A, Ball S, Bernard P, Kuyken W, Marx R, Pack S, Strauss C, Sweeney T, Crane C. The effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in real-world healthcare services. 2020;11(2):279–290. doi: 10.1007/s12671-018-1087-9. http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/32064009.1087 [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 15, 2023

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