I’ve experienced back pain so severe that it almost got me arrested.
I was in my apartment in NYC, I was deeply frustrated by my pain and lack of mobility, and I let out a loud, primal scream.
As crazy as things were in NYC in the 1990s, screaming was still frowned upon, especially with the windows open.
Luckily, New Yorkers tend to mind their own business. My neighbors didn’t call the cops, and I avoided doing any jail time.
I’m joking a little. But not about the pain. I’ll never joke about my experience with back pain.
I am no stranger to suffering. As a depressive, I’ve experienced mental-emotional pain the likes of which most people simply cannot imagine.
At one point, I welcomed the raw physicality of back pain. It was a relief to have something so physical, so tangible, as compared to depression and anxiety.
That was before the pain got bad. Once it got bad, I got desperate.
What you need to understand about back pain is that, when it’s bad, there is no escape — not when you’re sleeping, not when you’re sitting, and not when you’re standing.
You are in constant pain, except for a few hours of restless sleep every night.
With pain like that, you are desperate. Absolutely desperate. You are vulnerable. You will try anything.
Big Pharma to the Rescue
Never fear! Big Pharma is here!
From acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) to ibuprofen (e.g. Advil) to opiods (e.g. OxyContin), Big Pharma has a pill for your pain.
Don’t get me wrong. Pain killers can be a godsend. They are a terrific stopgap for pain management.
But that’s all they are — a stopgap. Pain killers are not a solution to pain.
If it were that simple, if Big Pharma really had an elegant, permanent solution to pain, and if there weren’t other solutions that are safer, more effective, and more affordable — then that would be that, and I wouldn’t be writing this article.
But here I am, writing my heart out.
The Limitations of Big Pharma
People like to think that Western medicine has all the answers. It’s a comforting thought. Unfortunately, it’s not true.
The truth is that Western medicine has some of the answers, but not all of them. If your MD doesn’t agree to this statement, then it’s probably time to find one who is more honest.
Pain management is an area where their answers are still incomplete.
Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know that. Imagine a pill that healed chronic pain for good. Do you think Big Pharma would be interested?
The truth is that a complete answer to pain management would lose them billions in revenue.
Am I a crazy conspiracy theorist? No. I’m not. I’ve simply learned to follow the money, and you probably should too.
As it stands, pain meds are an ongoing stream of income for Big Pharma. Patients end up being on pain meds for years. Over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. You do the math.
Big Pharma wields tremendous influence over doctors, researchers, and lawmakers. They are, in a very real sense, a cartel, and they will do whatever it takes to protect their interests.
(If I mysteriously disappear after publishing this article, then someone please get Benedict Cumberbatch to Sherlock my death!)
The Danger of Opioids
Opioids like oxycodone are one of the main methods Western medicine has for treating pain. There are definitely times when it is a blessing to have access to painkillers like this. After a knee replacement, for example.
The problem is that opioids are overprescribed. No, actually that’s not the root problem.
The root problem is that opioids are basically heroin. Otherwise, it wouldn’t matter if they were overprescribed.
What if I told you that there was something killing more Americans than gun homicides and car crashes? Would you pay closer attention?
Then pay attention, because opioids are killing us.
Deaths by overdose from prescription drugs like oxycodone are also worse than those from heroin and cocaine combined.
Read that sentence again. We’re talking about a drug that is not only legal, but prescribed by medical doctors. And THAT drug is killing people.
If we include the deaths that come from people who eventually overdose from heroin because they can no longer get their hands on prescription opioids, then the numbers are even more terrifying.
Opioids are killing more Americans than guns, cars, and illegal drugs? How the hell did this happen?
How We Got Here
In the past, opioids were mainly used to treat the awful pain associated with terminal cancer. In those cases, opiods were a miracle.
Opioids have also been safely used for years for short-term conditions, like post-surgical recovery.
But starting in the 1990s, opioids began to be used for things like low-back pain, sciatica, and other musculoskeletal problems.
As a result, we’ve been experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose deaths in the US since 2000. The use of these drugs has grown 10x over the last 20 years.
And that’s a problem. A serious problem.
It would be an even bigger problem if we didn’t have any other choice.
But we do.
Are there Better Solutions?
What if I told you there were solutions to pain that not only worked, but were safe, affordable, and had zero side effects.
No, it’s better than that. What if, instead of side effects, there were benefits!
Imagine a pill that managed pain as well as opioids, was 100% safe, had zero side effects, was extremely affordable, and also made your smarter.
You’d take that pill. I know I would.
In fact, I already do.
That pill is meditation. It seems that meditation — moving meditation, mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation — are great for pain. And of course, meditation also has lots of benefits as well.
“Prove it!” you say?
I’m assuming that the so-called “anecdotal” evidence of me having proved this on hundreds of students with chronic pain cannot be submitted as evidence. That’s okay. I won’t take it personally.
How many studies would it take before you were convinced?
Well here are 10 studies showing the pain-reducing benefits of meditation and tai chi:
- Demystifying meditation: Brain imaging illustrates how meditation reduces pain.
Meditation produces powerful pain-relieving effects in the brain, according to new research published in the April 6 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.
- Meditation can reduce chronic neck pain, study shows.
Meditation might be an effective treatment for reducing chronic neck pain, according to research reported in The Journal of Pain.
- Meditation eases pain, anxiety and fatigue during breast cancer biopsy.
Meditation eases anxiety, fatigue and pain for women undergoing breast cancer biopsies, according to researchers at the Duke Cancer Institute.
- Mindfulness meditation trumps placebo in pain reduction.
Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have found new evidence that mindfulness meditation reduces pain more effectively than placebo.
Mindfulness meditation provides opioid-free pain relief, study finds
Everyone knows that stubbing your toe hurts. What makes it stop hurting is the body’s main pain-blocking process — the natural production of opioids.
- Mindful meditation may be the answer to relieving chronic back pain, study suggests.
“These findings suggest that MBSR may be an effective treatment option for patients with chronic low back pain”
- Mindfulness Pain Relief Distinct from Placebo Effect.
A new study demonstrates that the practice of mindfulness may ease pain in a way that is mechanistically distinct from the placebo effect.
- This Is Why Meditation Makes You Feel Better
After just four days of meditation training, people reported feeling 21% less pain.
- Tai Chi found to be as effective as physical therapy for knee osteoarthritis
Both Tai Chi and physical therapy positively impact pain, function and other symptoms of knee osteoarthritis — making Tai Chi a viable treatment alternative for people suffering with the degenerative disease
- Tai Chi relieves arthritis pain, improves reach, balance, well-being, study suggests.
In the largest study to date of the Arthritis Foundation’s Tai Chi program, participants showed improvement in pain, fatigue, stiffness and sense of well-being.
Why Research is Slow
When I first started teaching qigong and tai chi, there weren’t very many studies. The benefits were all word-of-mouth.
Now, there are tons of studies. The list above is just a sampling. We could go on and on.
The real question is: with such promising early research, why isn’t MORE research being done?
Follow the money.
Research is mainly paid for by Big Pharma. Why on earth would they research solutions that not only can’t be patented, but would ultimately threaten their profit motive.
They wouldn’t. And they won’t.
The Pain Management Revolution
Because this is such a big issue, and because the research is so slow, there is a grass-roots movement to help people deal with pain.
I’m definitely not the only person doing this, which is good because it’s a huge problem! But I’ve been in the trenches helping people with chronic pain for ten years.
I’m honored to have been invited to speak at a tele-summit on pain management. This was a free online event with 20 experts. I was representing qigong and tai chi.
You can watch the interview for free here:
In the next article, I’ll talk about how our entire thinking about chronic pain is flawed, and why it will never product long-term results for those who are suffering. From the heart, Sifu Anthony