Did you know that meditation can help reduce the actual sensation of pain itself? That’s what some studies have shown.
It’s one thing to agree that meditation can help you handle the experience of pain, it’s another to actually use meditation for pain relief. But the studies at Wake Forest University School of Medicine show that meditation literally helps people feel less pain.
Studies Show: Meditation for Pain Relief Works
The following article, written for Health.com highlights the findings of the research led by Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina:
Fifteen men and women agreed to undergo the study where they would be burned twice with 120 degree heat on their calves. The first time they were burnt, none of them had any previous experience with meditation. Next they were given a 20-minute meditation training session each day over the course of four days. By the second round, they were told to meditate during which they were subjected to the same 120 degree heat on their calves.The result? On average, subjects rated the pain as 57 percent less unpleasant and 40 percent less intense. The reduction in pain ratings was substantially greater than those seen in similar studies involving placebo pills, hypnosis, and even morphine and other painkilling drugs.
The findings, which appear in the Journal of Neuroscience, weren’t totally unexpected as past research has found that Buddhist-style meditation—also known as mindfulness meditation—can help people cope with pain, anxiety, and a number of other physical and mental health problems. But in most cases the training takes weeks, not days.
The fact that Zeidan and his colleagues achieved these results after just 80 minutes of training is “spectacular,” says Robert Bonakdar, M.D., the director of pain management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, in San Diego.
Brain scans revealed that meditation seems to create a different pain stimulus outcome by changing how the participants’ brains perceive the pain.
The researchers looked, for instance, at a part of the brain called the somatosensory cortex, which contains a kind of map of the body. Before meditation training, the area corresponding to the right calf was quite active when the heat was applied to the volunteers. But there was little activity in this region when they were meditating, which suggests that “meditation reduces pain by reducing the actual sensation,” Zeidan says.
Areas of the brain responsible for maintaining focus and processing emotions were also more active during meditation, and the activity was highest in the volunteers who reported the greatest reductions in pain. “There’s not just one thing happening,” Zeidan says. “Mindfulness meditation incorporates multiple mechanisms, multiple avenues for pain relief.”
“The conventional wisdom has been that meditation relieves pain not by diminishing sensation but by helping people consciously control their perception of pain,” says Katharine MacLean, Ph.D., a meditation researcher and postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.
However, she says, the brain scans make it clear that both processes take place: Meditation changes the nature of pain before it’s perceived and also allows people to better handle it. “Meditation is really kind of re-tuning your brain.”
What do you think? Has meditation for pain relief helped you?
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