Scientists from the University of Wisconsin–Madison found the changes in pain-related brain activity that follow mindfulness training—pointing a way toward more targeted and precise pain treatment.
The research is published in The American Journal of Psychiatry and was conducted by Joseph Wielgosz et al.
Around one-third of Americans experience pain-related problems, but common treatments—like medications and invasive procedures—don’t work for everyone and have contributed to an epidemic of addiction to prescription and illicit drugs.
Popular with patients and promising in its clinical outcomes, mindfulness training courses have taken a central place in the drive for a more effective approach to pain management.
By practicing nonjudgmental, “present-centered” awareness of mind and body, participants can learn to respond to pain with less distress and more psychological flexibility—which can ultimately lead to reductions in pain itself.
In the study, the team identified pathways in the brain specific to pain regulation on which activity is altered by an 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course.
These changes were not seen in participants who took a similar course without the mindfulness instruction—important new evidence that the brain changes are due to the mindfulness training itself.
The team says participants in the course showed a reduction in a signature associated with the sensory intensity of pain.
The study is the first to demonstrate pain-related brain changes from a standardized mindfulness course that is widely offered in clinical settings.
The finding supports the idea that for new practitioners, mindfulness training directly affects how sensory signals from the body are converted into a brain response.
The study also looked at longer-term mindfulness training.
Intriguingly, practice on intensive meditation retreats was associated with changes in the neural signature for influences that shape pain indirectly—for example, differences in attention, beliefs and expectations, factors that often increase the perceived levels of distress in non-meditators.
These findings help show the potential for mindfulness practice as a lifestyle behavior.
If you care about pain, please read studies about painkiller that may harm your immune system, damage heart and kidneys, and this therapy that can effectively treat pain, depression and anxiety.
For more information about pain, please see recent studies about why some people have muscle pain after taking statins, and results showing this new painkiller may speed up recovery with fewer side effects.
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