Can Prayer Ease Chronic Pain?

By Dr. Lynn Webster, PNN Columnist

Does prayer lead to healing? Many religious people around the world believe that it does. According to the science, it may.

Medical researchers have looked into the effects of religion and spirituality on chronic health conditions, including chronic pain, for many years. The research has produced vastly different results. According to a review of studies in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, prayer may contribute to healing, may worsen health, or may make no difference at all.

Helen Fosam, PhD, says in Clinical Pain Advisor, "a positive emotional state and a positive expectation of pain relief can lower pain and enhance clinical effect of treatment."

So if you believe prayer can ease your pain, it may happen.

Pain Is a Spiritual Condition

As I say in my book, The Painful Truth, pain is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual condition. However, it might make more sense to reverse the order and put “spiritual” first because, for many people, the spiritual dimension is the most important.

More times than I can remember, I’ve known people in pain to cry out to God for mercy, kneel in silent prayer, cross themselves or finger their rosary, practice yoga or meditation, wear crosses or angel pins or crystals, express a longing for heaven, mention attending religious services, or tell me about their belief in God.

Even religious skeptics who are in pain sometimes pray for themselves or ask others to pray for them.


The simple fact is that most people have a tendency to turn to God and faith when they are in need, including when they are in pain. Along with most other pain specialists, I have come to see this as generally a good thing, because relating to a God or a perceived spiritual reality beyond oneself can affect one’s pain experience positively.

Prayer As Meditation

Prayer is a specialized form of meditation. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, meditation "may be helpful for a variety of conditions, such as high blood pressure, certain psychological disorders, and pain."

People who have faith in a higher power and turn to prayer may be availing themselves of the medical benefits of meditation.

Of course, not everyone who is in pain is religious or spiritual -- or wants to be. I’ve known many people with pain who have experienced a substantial increase in their life satisfaction without recourse to spiritual beliefs and practices. Some of them have practiced meditation, and some of them have not.

But if we’re interested in what promotes healing for those enduring long-term pain, we can’t ignore the interaction between belief and pain.


Lynn R. Webster, MD, is a vice president of scientific affairs for PRA Health Sciences and consults with the pharmaceutical industry. He is author of the award-winning book, The Painful Truth,” and co-producer of the documentary,It Hurts Until You Die.” You can find him on Twitter: @LynnRWebsterMD. 

The information in this column is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

4 F’s That Can Help Lower Pain Levels

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

So far in my monthly series on alternative pain treatments, we’ve looked at 4 A’s (acupressure, acupuncture, aromatherapy, art therapy), 4 C’s (Calmare, Chinese medicine, chiropractic, craniosacral therapy) and 4 E’s (energy therapy, electromagnetic therapy, equine therapy, exercise).

I like my alphabet series because it offers pain sufferers a look outside the tool box for therapies they may not have considered. I know that insurance does not cover many of these treatments. And I know that nothing I am suggesting is going to cure anyone, but it may offer some pain relief. I suppose that’s the cheerleader in me -- keep going even if your team is losing and find a way to win.

Looking through the reader comments to my series, I found one from “Fred” that I liked:

"You read many commenters who say, 'I've tried them all, nothing works.' Wrong! There are hundreds, possibly thousands of potential alternative/complimentary pain modalities. Anyone claiming, 'I've done 'em all,' that person would have to be like 150 years old, given the time and dedication many require to show real effectiveness! NO ONE has done 'em all. There's always something left to try."

I want to thank Fred for his comment and to let him know that I agree with him. Far too often we say that we have tried everything and nothing works. But that doesn’t mean we should stop looking or trying.

The four F’s we’ll look at this month are faith healing, Feldenkrais Method, food, and functional medicine. Please contact a trained provider who can clear you before you try any of these suggestions, especially when it comes to movement and nourishment.  

Faith Healing

Faith healing is the practice of prayer or rituals that solicit divine intervention in spiritual and physical healing. This practice can include the “laying on of hands” and miracles.

I personally don’t know anyone who had a full recovery from divine intervention, but I did have a near death experience that taught me some important lessons.

I learned that I needed to have more patience with people and that human connection has a purpose. It helped me see my purpose in life and why I was here on earth. It didn’t take away my physical pain, but it helped me learn how to stay positive through it.

Many others have claimed miraculous recoveries through prayer. According to a Newsweek poll, 72 percent of Americans believe that praying to God can cure someone. I do believe it can happen, I just haven’t seen it yet.

In a report on faith healing, the American Cancer Society tells us that "available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailments" and warns that "death, disability, and other unwanted outcomes have occurred when faith healing was elected instead of medical care for serious injuries or illnesses."


When parents have used faith healing instead of medical care, some children have died that otherwise would have been expected to live. Similar outcomes are found in adults who rely solely on faith healing.

I continue to say my daily prayers and remain a believer that all things are possible, even if I haven’t seen it yet personally. But I will continue with my other treatment options.  

Feldenkrais Method

The Feldenkrais Method is a type of exercise therapy devised and named after Moshé Feldenkrais. The method is claimed to reorganize connections between the brain and body, and to improve body movement and the psychological state.

I am a big believer in these techniques, used by Dr. Victor Pedro, who treats multiple friends of mine. I have seen them go into remission and remain well for years, although this treatment is not cost-effective for many.  

Supporters of the Feldenkrais Method claim it can repair impaired connections between the motor cortex and the body, which benefits body movement and improves their sense of well being. They also believe that it can be helpful with many pain conditions such as autism and multiple sclerosis. 

The Feldenkrais Guild of North America claims that this treatment option allows people to rediscover their innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement and that these improvements will often enhance function in other aspects of life. The treatment consists of repetitive movements with proper body alignment, done with or without a provider.

You can watch many videos online to learn and practice the Feldenkrais Method of exercise. Here is a sample:


The food that we put in our bodies is one of the underlying causes of inflammation, which increases chronic pain. This is also one area that we have complete control over and don’t need insurance to cover.

I myself have used a low-carb, high fat diet – known as the ketogenic or paleo diet -- to help lower inflammation and lose weight. I thought the diet was going to be much more expensive, but it turned out costing about the same as what I was spending on my regular food budget.

I also discovered I was not as hungry or constantly looking for snack foods as I was when I was eating my regular “American” diet. We underestimate how inflammation plays a major role in chronic pain. Knowing what foods can increase inflammation can make a big difference in how we manage pain.

One of the things I have done with my diet is add some “super foods.” Several research studies have shown that the compounds in these natural foods can reduce inflammation and even block pain signals. Research also shows that super foods can increase brain chemicals, such as serotonin, which can stop depression and make you feel happier.

The super foods that you could add to your diet to deal with chronic pain naturally include burdock root, hot peppers, yogurt, fresh ginger root, cannabis, turmeric, fenugreek leaves, onions, strawberries, garlic, olive oil, and salmon.

For more information on the ketogenic diet, I suggest reading Quick & Easy Ketogenic Cooking by Maria Emmerich.

Functional Medicine

I believe functional medicine (FM) is the future of conventional medicine. In FM, the provider works to address the root cause of disease and views the body as one system, not a collection of independent organs to be treated separately. This type of care lets us focus on treating the whole body, not just the symptoms.

I have had providers who were specialists who only looked at one body part or organ and were not willing to consider that it was all interlinked. Finding providers who believe in FM was very important to me. Having this patient centered approach to my care helped me be my own best advocate and helped my providers do a better job getting me into a state of remission and controlled pain levels.

My providers spend time with me, between 45 to 90 minutes per visit. We go over my medical history, genetic vs. environmental aspects, and lifestyle factors. I love functional medicine because it helps support individualized treatment.

With the sharp increase in people who have one or more chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, autoimmune disorders and  cancer, we need a system of care that puts the spotlight on everyone as a whole person.


The old way of practicing medicine is going out the window. We need to demand that all providers are on board with FM practices. We no longer want to be cookie cutter patients. We each need a unique approach to our care, and it is possible with better training for providers, research, and patient engagement.

Most providers are not adequately trained to assess the underlying causes of chronic diseases. Most can’t even adequately provide strategies such as nutrition, diet and exercise to treat and prevent future illnesses in their patients.

As patients we must push for FM and a more holistic approach. Finding a provider who is trained in FM involves them understanding disease origins, prevention, and treatment of chronic illnesses. With FM the unique genetic and environment of each patient is considered and an integrative, science-based care approach is employed using both traditional and alternative treatment options. As we focus on both internal (mind, body, and spirit) and external (physical and social environment) we will see greater improvements with our health, life and overall ability to function.

Do you have any suggestions? What alternative pain therapies have you tried that succeeded?  The more we share, the more others can see what they are able to do, what new treatments are available, and what old ones they may have overlooked.

Barby Ingle.jpg

Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.