PHYSIO ADVICE: How Mindful Movement Can Reduce Pain

Pain perception is a complex phenomenon, but our understanding of how pain can be modulated continues to develop. We currently know that stress, anxiety, mood, emotional state, beliefs and expectation can directly increase or decrease pain-related brain activation. However, there is emerging research into how mindfulness practices can engage brain mechanisms distinct from other cognitive interventions.

Mindfulness has been described as a “non-elaborative, non-judgmental awareness” of present moment experience (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Interestingly, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work with mindfulness training with chronic low back pain patients began in the early 1980s. His five-year study provided revolutionary evidence that eight weeks of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program significantly improved their pain symptoms and overall quality of life.

The amygdala, an almond-shaped set of neurons located deep in the temporal lobe of the brain, specialises in handling intense and stressful emotions- fear, anger, anxiety and all types of phobias.  The amygdala grows particularly lively when we are asleep and thus may account for why our dreams are so often disturbing. MRI scans have shown shrinkage of the amygdala following an eight-week course of mindfulness practice.



Mindful movement is commonly linked within yoga, but Pilates offers an excellent opportunity to apply these principles. Within Clinical Pilates sessions, we primarily emphasise tuning into your body, respecting where it is and working on those areas that are contributing to your pain.  This enables you to explore and make sense of the physical sensations experienced during a variety of different movements.

The social effects of having an injury can often exacerbate the emotional response to pain. After a few sessions of one to one attention, you are encouraged to attend a level one class with an experienced Pilates instructor. From here, you will continue to develop to transition fully into group reformer classes and then continue to layer in other exercise methods that interest you. Mindful movement will continue in these group settings but with a greater sense of self-autonomy over your own body and individual needs.

The use of mindfulness-based interventions in those with persistent pain is increasing. I personally find it a really useful adjunct to my Physiotherapy treatments. It calms the response of the nervous system to pain which can directly reduce protective tone and spasm. This creates the opportunity to move better and disrupt persistent pain cycles that occur with specific movements. When clients move more mindfully, they can make greater sense of their pain rather than avoiding everything that may be perceived as harmful. Before long, they are pleasantly surprised by their movement capabilities and how persistent pain can actually become more manageable and even disappear.

Sinead Watt is a Chartered Physiotherapist with Platinum Physio. Sinead specialises in Clinical Physio Pilates.


Clinical Physio Pilates is a treatment system that combines the best manual Physiotherapy with our state-of-the-art movement and Pilates equipment. Our Chartered Physiotherapy team use this combined approach to treat a wide range of injuries, dysfunctions and conditions such as persistent or acute low back pain, postural dysfunctions, Osteoporosis, post-surgical rehabilitation, and hypermobility.


Book a Clinical Physio Pilates session today with our Chartered Physiotherapist, Sinead Watt at Leeson Street and Clonskeagh studios, HERE

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