Pain Reduced by Meditation

June 7, 2010


I am a great advocate of meditation for many things: stress management, pain relief from arthritis, relaxation and general sense of increased peace and happiness. Now it seems that people who meditate regularly find pain less unpleasant because their brains anticipate the pain less – no one so far has yet done a study on meditation relating to childbirth pain, but I would be interested to hear from any readers experience of it. Currently In the UK 40% of people who suffer from chronic pain report inadequate management of their pain problem so any relief is welcomed.

You do need to keep practicing to get this pain relief benefit though as scientists from the University of Manchester found that only the more advanced meditators had a different anticipation and experience of pain when compared to non-meditators.

It didn’t seem to matter what kind of meditation as long it included ‘mindfulness meditation’ practices, such as those that form the basis of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), recommended for recurrent depression by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in 2004.

Dr Christopher Brown, who conducted the research, said that “meditation is becoming increasingly popular as a way to treat chronic illness such as the pain caused by arthritis and recently, a mental health charity called for meditation to be routinely available on the NHS to treat depression, which occurs in up to 50% of people with chronic pain. However, scientists have only just started to look into how meditation might reduce the emotional impact of pain.”

The study found that particular areas of the brain were less active as meditators anticipated pain and that people who meditate also showed unusual activity during anticipation of pain in part of the prefrontal cortex. This is the region of the brain known to be involved in controlling attention and thought processes when potential threats are perceived. . Meditation trains the brain to be more present-focused and therefore to spend less time anticipating future negative events. This may be why meditation is effective at reducing the recurrence of depression, which makes chronic pain considerably worse.

Study co-author Professor Anthony Jones said: “One might argue that if a therapy works, then why should we care how it works? But it may be surprising to learn that the mechanisms of action of many current therapies are largely unknown, a fact that hinders the development of new treatments. Understanding how meditation works would help improve this method of treatment and help in the development of new therapies.

If I was feeling cynical I might say that scientists have always been distinctly wary of anything ‘emotional’ that can’t be proved, so I do celebrate this as a giant step forward. If you want to conduct your own ‘research’ there are many classes available on meditation and plenty of self-help CD’s if you can’t get to a class. If you want to have a look at the meditation CD I produced to help you relax and reduce stress then please visit this link and scroll down the page


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