Meditation May Reduce Pain Intensity
Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that mindfulness meditation can bring greater pain relief than a placebo.
Researchers from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center gathered 75 healthy, pain-free participants and randomly assigned them to one of four groups: mindfulness meditation, placebo meditation (relaxation), placebo analgesic cream (petroleum jelly) or control.
Then pain was induced by using a thermal probe to heat a small area of the skin to 120.2 degrees Fahrenheit. The participants then rated pain intensity (physical sensation) and pain unpleasantness (emotional response).The participants’ brains were scanned with arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI) before and after their respective 4-day group interventions.
The results showed that in the mindfulness meditation group, pain intensity fell by 27 percent and the emotional aspect of pain fell by 44 percent. The placebo cream reduced the sensation of pain by 11 percent and emotional aspect by 13 percent. Brain scans showed that mindfulness meditation produced very different patterns of activity than those produced by placebo to reduce pain.
In looking at which areas of the brain were affected during the study, the team found that mindfulness meditation reduced pain by activating the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortex brain regions, associated with the self-control of pain.
The research team cautions that the results cannot yet be applied to chronic pain patients, since the study participants were healthy, pain-free volunteers.