How does mindfulness meditation control pain?

, showed that mindfulness meditation disrupted communication between brain regions involved in pain sensation and those that generate feelings of self. In the proposed mechanism, pain signals still travel from the body to the brain, but the individual feels no more possessive of those pain sensations, so their pain and tolerance are reduced. .

“One of the central principles of mindfulness is the principle that you are not your experience,” says senior author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, an associate professor of anesthesiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “You train yourself to experience thoughts and feelings without attaching your ego or sense of self to them, and we’re finally seeing how this plays out in the brain during pain. acute.” .


Details of Mindfulness Meditation Study

On the first day of the study, 40 participants had their brains scanned while unbearable heat was applied to their legs. After experiencing a series of these thermal stimuli, the participants had to rate their average pain level during the test. .

The participants were then divided into two groups. Members of the mindfulness group completed four separate 20-minute mindfulness training sessions. During these visits, they are instructed to focus on their breath and ease the process of self-referencing by noting their thoughts, feelings, and emotions but then letting them go without judgment or react. Members of the control group spent four sessions listening to audiobooks. .

On the last day of the study, both groups had their brain activity measured again. However, participants in the mindfulness group were now instructed to meditate during the unbearable heat, while the control group closed their eyes to rest. .

Results of the Mindfulness Meditation Study

The researchers found that active meditation participants reported a 32 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 33 percent reduction in discomfort. .

When the team analyzed the participants’ brain activity during the task, they found that mindfulness-induced analgesia was associated with reduced synchronization between the thalamus (the area of ​​the brain that relays information to the brain). sensory information to the rest of the brain) and parts of the default mode. network (the set of brain areas that are most active while a person is wandering or processing their thoughts and feelings in contrast to the outside world). .

One of these default mode regions is the precuneus, the brain region involved in basic features of self-perception and one of the first to go offline when a person lose consciousness. .

Another type is the prefrontal cortex which consists of several sub-regions that work together to process how you relate to or place value on your experiences. The more these areas were decoupled or deactivated, the more pain participants reported.

“For many people struggling with chronic pain, what often affects their quality of life is not the pain itself, but the emotional distress and frustration that accompanies it,” says Zeidan. with it. “Their pain becomes a part of who they are – something they can’t get out of – and this exacerbates their suffering.” .

New approach to pain management using mindfulness meditation
“We’re happy to confirm that you don’t need to be a professional meditator to experience these pain-relieving effects,” said study leader Zeidan. Zeidan said. “This is a finding with implications for millions of people looking for a fast-acting and drug-free pain-relieving treatment.” .

By forgoing self-assessment of pain, mindfulness meditation may provide a new approach to pain management. Mindfulness meditation is free and can be practiced anywhere. However, Zeidan said he hopes the training can be made more accessible and integrated into standard outpatient procedures.

“We are on track to discover a new non-opioid-based analgesic mechanism in which the default mode network plays an important role in the production of analgesia. We are excited to continue our biological discovery. neuroscience of mindfulness and its clinical potential for various disorders.” .

Co-authors include Gabriel Riegner, Valeria Oliva, and William Mobley at UC San Diego, Grace Posey at Tulane University, and Youngkyoo Jung at the University of California Davis. .

Source: Eurekalert

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