Want to Reduce Pain?
Reported April 8, 2011
(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Since the 1960s, meditation has been the focus of
increasing scientific research. In over 1,000 published research studies,
various methods of meditation have been linked to changes in metabolism,
blood pressure, brain activation, and other bodily processes. Now,
meditation has been used in clinical settings as a method of stress and pain
"This 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," Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the
study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest University Baptist
Medical Center, was quoted as saying. "We 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."
For the study, 15 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
Both 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.
The scans taken after meditation training demonstrated that each
participant's pain ratings were reduced, with decreases ranging from 11 to
93 percent, Zeidan said.
At the same time, meditation drastically reduced brain activity in the
primary somatosensory cortex -- an area that is significantly involved in
creating the feeling of where and how extreme a painful stimulus is. The
scans taken before meditation training showed activity in this area was
exceedingly high. Nevertheless, when participants were meditating during the
scans, activity in this vital pain-processing region could not be detected.
The research moreover illustrated that meditation improved brain activity in
areas including the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the
"These areas all shape how the brain builds an experience of pain from nerve
signals that are coming in from the body," Robert C. Coghill, Ph.D., senior
author of the study and associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at
Wake Forest Baptist, was quoted as saying.
"Consistent 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."
Zeidan and colleagues believe that meditation has immense potential for
clinical use because so little training was required to produce such
SOURCE: Journal of Neuroscience, April 6, 2011