Try Meditation for Pain Relief
N.C. April 5, 2011 Meditation produces powerful pain-relieving
effects in the brain, according to research published in the April
6, 2011 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.
is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation
training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and
pain-related brain activation," said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead
author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest
Baptist Medical Center.
found a big effect about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity
and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced
a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving
drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent."
study, 15 healthy volunteers who had never meditated attended four,
20-minute classes to learn a meditation technique known as focused
attention. Focused attention is a form of mindfulness meditation where
people are taught to attend to the breath and let go of distracting
thoughts and emotions.
before and after meditation training, study participants' brain activity
was examined using a special type of imaging -- arterial spin labeling
magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI) -- that captures longer duration
brain processes, such as meditation, better than a standard MRI scan
of brain function. During these scans, a pain-inducing heat device
was placed on the participants' right legs. This device heated a small
area of their skin to 120° Fahrenheit, a temperature that most
people find painful, over a 5-minute period.
taken after meditation training showed that every participant's pain
ratings were reduced, with decreases ranging from 11 to 93 percent,
same time, meditation significantly reduced brain activity in the
primary somatosensory cortex, an area that is crucially involved in
creating the feeling of where and how intense a painful stimulus is.
The scans taken before meditation training showed activity in this
area was very high. However, when participants were meditating during
the scans, activity in this important pain-processing region could
not be detected.
also showed that meditation increased brain activity in areas including
the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbito-frontal
cortex. "These areas all shape how the brain builds an experience
of pain from nerve signals that are coming in from the body,"
said Robert C. Coghill, Ph.D., senior author of the study and associate
professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist.
with this function, the more that these areas were activated by
meditation the more that pain was reduced. One of the reasons that
meditation may have been so effective in blocking pain was that
it did not work at just one place in the brain, but instead reduced
pain at multiple levels of processing."
and colleagues believe that meditation has great potential for clinical
use because so little training was required to produce such dramatic
pain-relieving effects. "This study shows that meditation produces
real effects in the brain and can provide an effective way for people
to substantially reduce their pain without medications," Zeidan
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