Can Mindfulness Reduce Pain?

Why mindful people could feel less pain

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Mindfulness and pain

If you live with pain you’ll already know that it is both physically and emotionally depleting. Millions of people suffer from chronic pain each year but new research may provide a paradigm shift in pain management. If you’re asking yourself, can mindfulness reduce pain? read on.

The benefits of mindfulness on wellbeing have been talked about for well over a decade. We know the enormous benefits of mindfulness for stress reduction, resilience, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. As a mindfulness teacher, I hear anecdotal evidence on a regular basis. But can mindfulness reduce pain?

New research funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found that the use mindfulness meditation in pain management could be even more effective than traditional treatments.

Lead researcher Fadel Zeidan, Assistant professor of neurobiology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, set out to discover which areas of the brain were responsible for the pain relieving effects.

The researchers worked with 76 participants who were all new to mindfulness. They were tested to assess their pre-existing level of mindfulness. To establish a baseline of mindfulness Zeidan used the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI) a tool to measure mindfulness.

Participants were then subjected to uncomfortable heat stimulation to various levels from no pain to pain. They were asked how much the heat hurt and FMRI was used to study the areas of the brain activated.

The study discovered that participants who were naturally more mindful experienced less activity in an area of the brain called posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). They experienced less pain. The PCC belongs to part of the brain known as the default mode network (DMN). The DMN sets to work when you are mind starts to wander, when you zone out or when you are processing thoughts, feelings and emotions. When those people in the study with with dispositional mindfulness felt pain, their DMN was deactivated.

The participants who were less mindful felt more pain. Their default mode network became more activated. Why? Zeidan points out that the “Default mode network is reactivated whenever the individual stops performing a task and reverts to self-related thoughts, feelings, and emotions,”

Mindfulness means being aware of the present moment without reacting or judging it and this is exactly what happened in the research. The people who were more mindful became less caught up in the experience of pain.

Effectively, when we’re not doing something our minds begin to wander, in this instance focusing on the pain. Regular mindfulness practice helps people to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings and emotions and to develop self regulation. Effectively, we can train ourselves to be more mindful.

Can mindfulness really reduce pain? The simple answer is, yes. Zeidan states, “we have some new ammunition to target this brain region in the development of effective pain therapies.”

If you’d like to know more about mindfulness, or build your mindfulness muscles, take a look at our free mindfulness guide

We work with people who would like to be more mindful as well as Fortune 500 companies to develop mindful workplaces. We offer mindfulness at work training courses, introduction to mindfulness courses and mindful coaching. Get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

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