In an earlier post, I reported on some work by Montreal University researcher Pierre Rainville, PhD, who found that meditators experienced an 18% reduction in pain sensitivity compared to their non-meditating counterparts.
A new study by Christopher Brown, PhD out of the University of Manchester, UK and published in the journal Pain, found that meditation may also decrease the emotional anticipation and impact of pain.
In his experiments, Dr. Brown formed two groups – individuals with meditation experience and a control group whose participants had no meditation background.
All participants were then tested to see how their brains would react to the anticipation of pain.
Brown found that the brains of long-time meditators were less active as they anticipated the pain. They also reported less unpleasantness associated with the pain.
It has long been thought that meditation keeps attention focused on the present rather than the anticipation of future negative events.
What’s interesting about this study is the correlation of long-time meditation practice and the lessening of the experience of pain with lowered activity in the midcingulate cortex.
They also found that the longer a person had practiced meditation, the less the anticipatory neural processing that person experienced and the less negative the individual found the pain.
I am excited about this study, but . . .
. . . there are some challenges because it’s correlational data. And because of that, you can’t really say that meditation was the cause of lessened anticipation or lessened experience of pain.
But you can’t really randomize long-time practice of meditation. With that said . . .
. . . I think this work could have major ramifications for practitioners who treat patients chronic pain and I’m hopeful that more research will be done.
Want to know more about the connection between mindfulness practices and the brain?
Then take a look at our mindfulness programs.
Meanwhile, please leave a comment below telling us about your experience treating pain. What’s worked with your patients?