Study: Mindfulness Mitigates Pain
A study conducted at Wake Forest School of Medicine states that people who engage mindfulness – the practice of present moment awareness – carry less pain and stress than those who don’t.
The study’s lead author, Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., said: “We now know that some people are more mindful than others, and those people seemingly feel less pain.”
The researchers analyzed data obtained from a study published in 2015 that compared mindfulness meditation to placebo analgesia.
In this follow-up study, Zeidan sought to determine if dispositional mindfulness, an individual’s innate or natural level of mindfulness, was associated with lower pain sensitivity, and to identify what brain mechanisms were involved.
In the study, 76 healthy volunteers who had never meditated first completed the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory, a reliable clinical measurement of mindfulness, to determine their baseline levels.
Then, while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging, they were administered painful heat stimulation (120°F).
Whole brain analyses revealed that higher dispositional mindfulness during painful heat was associated with greater deactivation of a brain region called the posterior cingulate cortex, a central neural node of the default mode network (see below).
In those that reported higher pain, there was greater activation of this critically important brain region.
The default mode network extends from the posterior cingulate cortex to the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain.
These two brain regions continuously feed information back and forth and this network is associated with processing feelings of self and mind wandering.
Zeidan said: “Now we have some new ammunition to target this brain region in the development of effective pain therapies.
“Importantly this work shows that we should consider one’s level of mindfulness when calculating why and how one feels less or more pain.”
He concluded: “Based on our earlier research, we know we can increase mindfulness through relatively short periods of mindfulness meditation training, so this may prove to be an effective way to provide pain relief for the millions of people suffering from chronic pain.”
Read more: Why Meditate? A Guide