When the average American experiences pain, their first response is to take some kind of pill to modulate the pain.
Pain relievers like Tylenol, ibuprofen, and even more powerful painkillers like Opiates are the standard fare.
But, they not the best choice.
Researchers recently discovered that mindfulness could actually help to reduce pain.
In the past few years, mindfulness has become an area of great interest. It’s been associated with stress-reduction, anti-anxiety, and even longer life.
And this new study seems to indicate mindfulness can shut off the brain’s default pain programming.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) actually demonstrated mindfulness is more effective than many of the standard pain-relief treatments.
Researchers at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC and led Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D. theorized mindfulness causes the brain to produce analgesic effects, which helps to neutralize felt pain.
Zeidan commented, “Mindfulness is related to being aware of the present moment without too much emotional reaction or judgment…We now know that some people are more mindful than others, and those people seemingly feel less pain,” he adds.
In order to reach this conclusion, the team took 76 people who were healthy but had never meditated or practiced mindfulness before.
Zeidan’s team then subjected the participants to a kind of painful heat stimulation along with non-painful stimulation. They observed what happened to the participants by monitoring brain activity with MRIs.
What they discovered was as follows.
“…higher trait mindfulness correlated with greater deactivation of the posterior cingulate cortex. People thus predisposed to mindfulness also experienced less pain.
Conversely, in those who said they had felt more pain, this brain region was more active.
“Default mode deactivates whenever you are performing any kind of task, such as reading or writing,” explains Zeidan.
“Default mode network is reactivated whenever the individual stops performing a task and reverts to self-related thoughts, feelings, and emotions,” he continues.
“The results from our study,” Zeidan says, “showed that mindful individuals are seemingly less caught up in the experience of pain, which was associated with lower pain reports.”
“Now,” he adds, “we have some new ammunition to target this brain region in the development of effective pain therapies.”
“Importantly, this work shows that we should consider one’s level of mindfulness when calculating why and how one feels less or more pain.”
Zeidan hopes that the findings will help bring relief to those living with chronic pain. “Based on our earlier research,” he says, “we know we can increase mindfulness through relatively short periods of mindfulness meditation training, so this may prove to be an effective way to provide pain relief for the millions of people suffering from chronic pain.”