Mindfulness-based interventions for chronic pain: a systematic review of the evidence

J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Jan;17(1):83-93. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0546.


Objectives: Chronic pain is a common disabling illness that does not completely respond to current medical treatments. As a consequence, in recent years many alternative interventions have been suggested. Among them, mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are receiving growing attention. The aim of the present article is to review controlled studies investigating the efficacy of MBIs for the reduction of pain and the improvement of depressive symptoms in patients suffering from chronic pain.

Methods: A literature search was undertaken using MEDLINE,(®) ISI web of knowledge, the Cochrane database, and references of retrieved articles. The search included articles written in English published up to July 2009. The data were independently extracted by two reviewers from the original reports. Quality of included trials was also assessed.

Results: Ten (10) studies were considered eligible for the present review. Current studies showed that MBIs could have nonspecific effects for the reduction of pain symptoms and the improvement of depressive symptoms in patients with chronic pain, while there is only limited evidence suggesting specific effects of such interventions. Further findings evidenced some improvements in psychologic measures related to chronic pain such as copying with pain following MBIs as well.

Discussion: There is not yet sufficient evidence to determine the magnitude of the effects of MBIs for patients with chronic pain. Main limitations of reviewed studies include small sample size, absence of randomization, the use of a waiting list control group that does not allow distinguishing of specific from nonspecific effects of MBI as well as differences among interventions.

Conclusions: However, because of these preliminary results, further research in larger properly powered and better designed studies is warranted.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Humans
  • Meditation / methods*
  • Mind-Body Relations, Metaphysical*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Pain, Intractable / complications
  • Pain, Intractable / psychology
  • Pain, Intractable / therapy*