Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain


Ninety chronic pain patients were trained in mindfulness meditation in a 10-week Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program. Statistically significant reductions were observed in measures of present-moment pain, negative body image, inhibition of activity by pain, symptoms, mood disturbance, and psychological symptomatology, including anxiety and depression. Pain-related drug utilization decreased and activity levels and feelings of self-esteem increased. Improvement appeared to be independent of gender, source of referral, and type of pain. A comparison group of pain patients did not show significant improvement on these measures after traditional treatment protocols. At follow-up, the improvements observed during the meditation training were maintained up to 15 months post-meditation training for all measures except present-moment pain. The majority of subjects reported continued high compliance with the meditation practice as part of their daily lives. The relationship of mindfulness meditation to other psychological methods for chronic pain control is discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Ahles, T. A., Blanchard, E. B., and Levinthal, H. (1983). Cognitive control of pain: Attention to the sensory aspects of the cold pressor stimulus.Cognit. Ther. Res. 7: 159–178.

  2. Armitage, P. (1971).Statistical Methods in Medical Research, Wiley, New York, 138.

  3. Benson, H. (1975).The Relaxation Response, Morrow, New York.

  4. Brown, D. P., and Engler, J. (1980). A Rorschach study of the stages of mindfulness meditation.J. Transper. Psychol. 12: 143–192.

  5. Burns, D. M. (1973).Buddhist Meditation and Depth Psychology, Wheel, Kandy, Sri Lanka.

  6. Burns, D., and Ohayv, R. J. (1980). Psychological changes in meditating Western monks in Thailand.J. Transper. Psychol. 12: 11–24.

  7. Butler, K. (1983). Events are the teacher.Co-Evol. Q. Winter: 112–123.

  8. Cassel, E. J. (1982). The nature of suffering and the goals of medicine.N. Engl. J. Med. 306: 639–645.

  9. Davidson, J. M. (1976). The physiology of meditation and mystical states of consciousness.Perspect. Biol. Med. 345–379.

  10. Deatherage, G. (1975). The clinical use of mindfulness meditation techniques in short-term psychotherapy.J. Transfer. Psychol. 2: 133–144.

  11. Deikman, A. J. (1982).The Observing Self, Beacon, Boston.

  12. Derogatis, L. R. (1977).SCL-90-R Manual I Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md.

  13. Derogatis, L. R., Rickels, K., and Rock, A. F. (1976). The SCL-90 and the MMPI: A step in the validation of a new self-report scale.Br. J. Psychiat. 128: 280–289.

  14. Haskell, D., Pugatch, D., and McNair, D. M. (1969). Time-limited psychotherapy for whom?Arch. Gen. Psychiat. 21: 546–552.

  15. Holroyd, K. A., and Andrasik, F. (1980). Self-control of tension headache. In McGuigan, F. J., Sime, W. E., and Wallace, J. M. (eds.),Stress and Tension Control, Plenum, New York.

  16. Ingelfinger, J. A., Mosteller, F., Thibodeau, L. A., and Ware, J. H. (1983).Biostatistics in Clinical Medicine, Macmillan, New York, p. 170.

  17. Jung, C. G. (ed.) (1969). Forward to Introduction to Zen Buddhism. InPsychology and Religion, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., p. 554.

  18. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1982). An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results.Gen. Hosp. Psychiat. 4: 33–42.

  19. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1983). The Body Problem Assessment Scale. In Melzack, R. (ed.),Pain Measurement and Assessment. Raven, New York, pp. 227–231.

  20. Kabat-Zinn, J., and Burney, R. (1981). The clinical use of awareness meditation in the self-regulation of chronic pain.Pain (Suppl.) 1: S273.

  21. Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L., Sellers, W., Brew, M., and Burney, R. (1984). Reproducibility and four year follow-up of a training program in mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain.Pain (Suppl.) 2: S303.

  22. Krishnamurti, J. (1979).The Wholeness of Life, Harper and Row, New York.

  23. Kutz, I., Borysenko, J. Z., and Benson, H. (1985a). Meditation and psychotherapy: A rationale for the integration of dynamic psychotherapy, the relaxation response, and mindfulness meditation.Am. J. Psychiat. 142: 1–8.

  24. Kutz, I., Leserman, J., Morrisson, C. H., Borysenko, J. Z., Dorrington, C., and Benson, H. (1985b). Meditation as an adjunct to psychotherapy: An outcome study (submitted for publication).

  25. Leventhal, H., Brown, D., Shachman, S., and Engquist, G. (1979). Effects of preparatory information about sensations, threat of pain, and attention on cold pressor distress.J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 37: 688–714.

  26. Maliszewski, M., Twemlow, S. W., Brown, D. P., and Engler, J. (1981). A phenomenological typology of intensive meditation.Revision 4: 3–27.

  27. McCaul, K. D., and Haugtvedt, C. (1982). Attention, distraction and cold-pressor pain.J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 43: 154–162.

  28. McCue, J. D. (1982). The effects of stress on physicians and their medical practice.New Engl. J. Med. 306: 458–463.

  29. McNair, D. M., Lorr, M., and Droppleman, L. F. (1971).Profile of Mood States (POMS), Educational and Industrial Testing Service, San Diego, Calif.

  30. Melzack, R. (1975). The McGill Pain Questionnaire: Major properties and scoring methods.Pain 1: 277–299.

  31. Melzack, R., and Perry, C. (1975). Self-regulation of pain: The use of alpha feedback and hypnotic training for the control of chronic pain.Exp. Neurol. 46: 452–469.

  32. Melzack, R., and Wall, P. D. (1970). Psychophvsiology of pain.Int. Anesthesiol. Clin. 8: 3–34.

  33. Melzack, R. and Wall, F. D. (1983).The Challenge of Pain, Basic, New York.

  34. Naranjo, C., and Ornstein, R. E. (1971).On the Psychology of Meditation, Penguin, New York, p. 9.

  35. Nisargadatta Maharaj (1973).I Am That, Vols. I and II, Chetana, Bombay.

  36. Nyanaponika, T. (1962).The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, Samuel Weiser, New York, pp. 30–45.

  37. Shapiro, D. H. (1980).Meditation: Self-Regulation Strategy and Altered State of Consciousness, Aldine, New York.

  38. Shapiro, D. H., and Giber, D. (1978). Meditation and psychotherapeutic effects.Arch. Gen. Psychiat. 35: 294–302.

  39. Sternback, R. A. (ed.) (1978).The Psychology of Pain, Raven, New York.

  40. Suzuki, S. (1970).Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Weatherall, New York.

  41. Thakar, V. (1977).Life as Yoga, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi.

  42. Turk, D. C., Meichenbaum, D. H., and Berman, W. H. (1979). Application of biofeedback for the regulation of pain: A critical review.Psychol. Bull. 86: 1322–1338.

  43. Turk, D. C., Meichenbaum, D., and Genest, M. (1983).Pain and Behavioral Medicine, Guilford, New York.

  44. Turner, J. A., and Chapman, C. R. (1982a). Psychological interventions for chronic pain: A critical review. I. Relaxation training and biofeedback.Pain 12: 1–21.

  45. Turner, J. A., and Chapman, C. R. (1982b). Psychological interventions of chronic pain: A critical review. II. Operant conditioning, hypnosis, and cognitive therapy.Pain 12: 22–46.

  46. Walsh, R. N. (1977). Initial meditative experiences I.J. Transper. Psychol. 9: 151–192.

  47. Walsh, R. N. (1978). Initial meditative experiences II.J. Transper. Psychol. 10: 1–28.

  48. Walsh, R. N. (1980). The consciousness disciplines and the behavioral sciences: Questions of comparison and assessment.Am. J. Psychiat. 137: 663–673.

  49. Walsh, R. N. (1983). Meditation practice and research.J. Hum. Psychol. 23: 18–50.

  50. Walsh, R. N., and Vaughan, F. (1980). (eds.),Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology, J. P. Tarcher, Los Angeles.

  51. Wilber, K. (1979).No Boundary, Shambhala, Boulder, Colo.

  52. Wilber, K. (1980). A developmental model of consciousness. In Walsh, R. N., and Vaughan, F. (eds.),Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology, J. P. Tarcher, Los Angeles, pp. 99–114.

  53. Woolfolk, R. L. (1975). Psychophysiological correlates of meditation.Arch. Gen. Psychiat. 32: 1326–1333.

  54. Zitman, F. G. (1983). Biofeedback and chronic pain. In Bonica, J. J.,et al. (eds.),Advances in Pain Research and Therapy, Vol. 5, Raven, New York, pp. 795–808.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L. & Burney, R. The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. J Behav Med 8, 163–190 (1985).

Download citation

Key words

  • meditation
  • pain
  • self-regulation
  • coping
  • stress