Mindfulness meditation helps people cultivate awareness that they already possess. According to new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience, mindfulness meditation can even provide better pain relief than a placebo. The study reveals how brain activity produced by mindfulness meditation is different from brain activity patterns produced by a placebo cream.
For the study, researchers analyzed the active ingredients of meditation through the use of brain imaging technology in order to determine whether mindfulness mediation was just a placebo effect.
The trial randomly designated 75 pain-free participants to one of four group interventions, including placebo meditation (relaxation), mindfulness meditation, a control, or a placebo analgesic cream.
A thermal probe that heated a small part of the skin to 120.2 degrees fahrenheit, a heat level that most find painful, was used to induce pain to each participant. Participants then rated their level of pain intensity, physical sensation, pain unpleasantness, and emotional response. Their brains were scanned with arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI) before and after the four-day activities.
For the mindfulness meditation group, emotional pain dropped by 44% and the physical sensation fell by 27%. On the other hand, the placebo cream reduced physical pain by 11% and emotional pain by 13%. The placebo meditation saw a nine percent reduction in physical pain and it dropped by 24% for emotional pain (possibly from the relaxation meditation linked with slower breathing).
The study found that mindfulness mediation reduced pain by the anterior cingulate cortex and orbitofrontal regions of the brain linked with self-control from pain. The placebo cream reduced pain by lowering the brain activity in the secondary somatosensory cortex, or the pain-processing areas. The thalamus was not active during mindfulness meditation, but it was activated for other conditions. The deactivation of the thalamus may have allowed pain signals to vanish, according to study researchers.
“We were completely surprised by the findings,” explained lead researcher on the study Dr. Fadal Zeidan, an assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist. “While we thought that there would be some overlap in brain regions between meditation and placebo, the findings from this study provide novel and objective evidence that mindfulness meditation reduces pain in a unique fashion.”
Previous studies from Dr. Zaidan and his team have noted the effect of attention, beliefs, distraction, expectation, hypnosis, placebo, anxiety, stress, mood, emotional state, and enhanced cognitive and emotional control for pain relief.
Humans are thought to perceive moments as lasting, but by changing this perception, mindfulness can decrease discomfort. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental practice that allows individuals to be more present in their lives. There are two categories of mindfulness: open monitoring and focused attention.
In another study published in the International Journal of Yoga, researchers discovered that mind-body therapy (i.e. body scans, sitting and walking meditation) was effective at reducing the severity of pain and improving the mental and physical quality of life in women with chronic low back pain.
In addition to pain relief, other mindfulness meditation health benefits include increased energy, improved immune function, digestion, sleep, mental function, memory, and decision-making abilities. Mindfulness meditation is also known to reduce depression, anxiety, and irritability.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Davenport, L., “Mindfulness Meditation ‘Better Than Placebo’ for Pain Relief,” Medscape Multispecialty web site, November 25, 2015; http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/855058.
Zeidan, F., et al., “Mindfulness Meditation-Based Pain Relief Employs Different Neural Mechanisms Than Placebo and Sham Mindfulness Meditation-Induced Analgesia,” The Journal of Neuroscience, 2015, 35(46): 15307-15325, doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2542-15.2015.
Banth, S., et al., “Effectiveness of mindfulness meditation on pain and quality of life of patients with chronic low back pain,” International Journal of Yoga, 2015; 8(2): 128-133, doi: 10.4103/0973-6131.158476.
“What is Mindfulness Mediation?” Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Central Pennsylvania web site; http://meditationscience.weebly.com/what-is-mindfulness-meditation.html, last accessed November 26, 2015.
“Mindfulness meditation reduces pain, study finds,” Medical News Today web site, November 15, 2015; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/302620.php.