Nov. 11, 2009 -- A mini-course in meditation may be all it takes to assist
in pain management.
A new study shows as little as an hour of mindfulness training is enough to
"We knew already that meditation has significant effects on pain perception
in long-term practitioners whose brains seem to have been completely changed --
we didn't know that you could do this in just three days, with just 20 minutes
a day," says researcher Fadel Zeidan, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the
University of North Carolina, Charlotte, in a news release.
"Not only did the meditation subjects feel less pain than the control group
while meditating, but they also experienced less pain sensitivity while not
meditating," says Zeidan.
In the study, published in the Journal of Pain, a group of 22 college
students received three, 20-minute mindfulness training sessions over the
course of three days.
In three different experiments, researchers compared their responses to mild
electrical shocks to the forearm with the responses of a similar group of
students that was not trained in meditation; the untrained group was instructed
to relax or given math problems as a distraction.
The shocks had different intensities, and researchers measured changes in
the participants' rating of "high" and "low" levels of pain as well as changes
in general pain sensitivity.
Overall, the results showed mindfulness meditation training reduced the pain
ratings of both "high" and "low" levels of pain more than math distraction and
relaxation techniques. Math distraction improved pain ratings of “high” levels
of pain, but not “low” levels of pain. Relaxation didn’t affect pain ratings
for either “high” or “low” levels of pain.
In addition, researchers say the meditation training seemed to have reduced
general pain sensitivity even after the experiments were over. Participants who
were mindful tended to be less anxious on subjective assessments.
Zeidan says the mindfulness training lessened the awareness and sensitivity
to pain by reducing anxiety and teaching people to pay attention to the
sensations at present rather than anticipating future pain.
"The mindfulness training taught them that distractions, feelings, emotions
are momentary, don't require a label or judgment because the moment is already
over," Zeidan says in the news release. "With the meditation training they
would acknowledge the pain, they realize what it is, but just let it go. They
learn to bring their attention back to the present."