Do Meditation Techniques and Other Mind Body Therapies Decrease Pain?

Four independent and recent studies have found that meditation is helpful in reducing pain.

The first, a recent study in the Journal of Neurosciences found that using a certain meditation technique can be a potent way to reduce pain. A short session less than 20 minutes is more potent than even the narcotic drug morphine. The study was conducted at Wake Forest University’s Baptist Medical Center is to with other research that indicates relaxing and clearing the mind can reduce the perception of pain, but critics insist it is far too early to recommend that people experiencing chronic pain stop taking their analgesic medications.

The next study involved 15 volunteers learning a technique known as focused attention, in which one shifts his attention from distracting thoughts, through focusing on breathing. The participants attended for 20 min. classes. It was conducted at the University of North Carolina and published in the journal Pain.

Prior to and following the meditation training, the participants were subjected to 5 min. and 55 seconds of relative pain. A small patch on the subject’s right leg to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and the participant used a six inch plastic sliding scale to port their level of pain.

MRI Reveals Brain Changes

MRI brain scans of volunteers, or the training show a lot of activity in the brain’s, the primary somatosensory cortex, but that disappeared after meditation training.
Every participant had some for meditating, but that was a wide variability among the participants, between 93 and 11%.

Also, because of the small size of the room only 15 practice and it is difficult to drugs and solutions from the sample. And the pain experienced by the participants, a burning sensation for a few minutes doesn’t compare to different types of pain that people experience.

Overall a study such as this one is adding to in every recent body of research indicating that even short periods meditation can have significant pain relieving benefits.

Lead researcher, Fadel Zeidan, said in a press release, "With meditation raining they would acknowledge the pain, they realize what it is, but just let it go. They learn to bring their attention back to the present."

Can Meditation Reduce Anxiety?

The third study, also published in the Journal of Pain, found that a 3 day 20 minute per day mindfulness meditation program training caused significant reduction in pain sensitivity after meditation and anxiety, also. The change suggests that meditation’s pain relieving effects are related to diminished anxiety and the enhanced ability to focus on the present moment.

The findings indicate that a brief 3 day mindfulness meditation intervention was effective at reducing pain ratings and anxiety scores when compared to pain perception prior to meditating and other cognitive manipulations such as math distraction.

Does Meditation Change the Pain Response?

The final report, conducted at the University of Montreal in Canada gave mildly painful electric shocks to 13 participants, that caused a knee-jerk reaction that could be measured by MRI imaging. At the time the shock was given, the participants viewed a series of images that were pleasant, vicious, or neutral. The researchers found that the pain of the shocks was perceived as being worse when the participants were viewing unpleasant photos.

These findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Emotions–or mood–can alter how we react to pain since they’re interlinked," noted Mathieu Roy, the lead author of the study.

"Non-pharmaceutical interventions–mood enhancers such as photography or music–could be used in healthcare to help alleviate pain. These interventions would be inexpensive and adaptable to several fields."

Journal of Neurosciences
Journal of Pain
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences