Meditation Reduces the Emotional Impact of Pain, Study Finds
ScienceDaily (June 2, 2010) — People who meditate regularly find pain less unpleasant because their brains anticipate the pain less, a new study has found.
Scientists from The University of Manchester recruited individuals into the study who had a diverse range of experience with meditation, spanning anything from months to decades. It was only the more advanced meditators whose anticipation and experience of pain differed from non-meditators.
The type of meditation practiced also varied across individuals, but all included ‘mindfulness meditation’ practices, such as those that form the basis of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), recommended for recurrent depression by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in 2004.
“Meditation is becoming increasingly popular as a way to treat chronic illness such as the pain caused by arthritis,” said Dr Christopher Brown, who conducted the research. “Recently, a mental health charity called for meditation to be routinely available on the NHS to treat depression, which occurs in up to 50% of people with chronic pain. However, scientists have only just started to look into how meditation might reduce the emotional impact of pain.”
The study, to be published in the journal Pain, found that particular areas of the brain were less active as meditators anticipated pain, as induced by a laser device. Those with longer meditation experience (up to 35 years) showed the least anticipation of the laser pain.
Dr Brown, who is based in the University’s School of Translational Medicine, found that people who meditate also showed unusual activity during anticipation of pain in part of the prefrontal cortex, a brain region known to be involved in controlling attention and thought processes when potential threats are perceived.
He said: “The results of the study confirm how we suspected meditation might affect the brain. Meditation trains the brain to be more present-focused and therefore to spend less time anticipating future negative events. This may be why meditation is effective at reducing the recurrence of depression, which makes chronic pain considerably worse.”
Dr Brown said the findings should encourage further research into how the brain is changed by meditation practice. He said: “Although we found that meditators anticipate pain less and find pain less unpleasant, it’s not clear precisely how meditation changes brain function over time to produce these effects.
“However, the importance of developing new treatments for chronic pain is clear: 40% of people who suffer from chronic pain report inadequate management of their pain problem.”
In the UK, more than 10 million adults consult their GP each year with arthritis and related conditions. The estimated annual direct cost of these conditions to health and social services is £5.7 billion.
Study co-author Professor Anthony Jones said: “One might argue that if a therapy works, then why should we care how it works? But it may be surprising to learn that the mechanisms of action of many current therapies are largely unknown, a fact that hinders the development of new treatments. Understanding how meditation works would help improve this method of treatment and help in the development of new therapies.
“There may also be some types of patient with chronic pain who benefit more from meditation-based therapies than others. If we can find out the mechanism of action of meditation for reducing pain, we may be able to screen patients in the future for deficiencies in that mechanism, allowing us to target the treatment to those people.
I started meditating several years ago. At first I thought I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I closed my eyes and tried to clear my mind, but the more I did the more thoughts kept running through. So I tried to focus on a spot on the wall. That didn’t help. Then I tried to focus on my breathing that worked a bit. However, my mind starting racing again. Then I started trying the guided meditations. That is when it slowly came together. Now, years later, I can go into a meditative state anywhere anytime. It helps me to focus.
I will confess something here. I do not like dentists. It is not the person it is the profession. For some reason every time I leave the dentist’s office I am feeling worse than when I arrive. Saying this I do not go very often. So one day I finally got up the nerve to go and I see the dental hygienist. She is scaling my teeth for an hour. I definitely had to go into a meditative state. Half way through she stops and says “Wow, are you ever good. I normally have to freeze my patients while I do this.” (I haven’t had my teeth cleaned in a long time) I didn’t feel anything but her tools working away. (I take very good care of my teeth because I don’t like dentists. I just had to mention that).
You can train your mind as well for future events. I recently had an operation. In anticipation of which I had meditated on the surgery before hand. After the surgery I was able to leave the hospital with no pain and was able to move around. Yes I was stiff and tired, however, considering just having a 3 hour operation and then home 3 hours later, the body does need some rest.
To sum it up, I think I would be walking with a cane right now if it wasn’t for finding Reiki and Meditation.
I just wish it didn’t take so long for these studies to be published. The public needs this information to make informed choices for their own health.
Have a great day!!
Source: University of Manchester (2010, June 2). Meditation reduces the emotional impact of pain, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved
Christopher A. Brown, Anthony K.P. Jones. Meditation experience predicts less negative appraisal of pain: Electrophysiological evidence for the involvement of anticipatory neural responses. Pain, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.04.017