Meditation Stronger than drugs for pain relief, from the Telegraph
Meditation stronger than drugs for pain relief
Meditation can have pain relieving effects greater than morphine, claims new study.
Researchers have found that just one hour of meditation training can reduce immediate pain by nearly half and have a long lasting effect.
The technique appears to work as it calms down pain experiencing areas of the brain while at the same time boosting coping areas.
“This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” said Dr Fadel Zeidan, lead author at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.
For the study, 15 healthy volunteers who had never meditated before attended four, 20-minute classes to learn a meditation technique known as focused attention.
Focused attention is a form of mindfulness meditation where people are taught to concentrate on breathing and let go of distracting thoughts and emotions.
Both before and after meditation training, study participants’ brain activity was examined using a special type of imaging called arterial spin labelling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI).
This captures longer duration brain processes, such as meditation, better than a standard MRI scan of brain function.
During these scans, a pain-inducing heat device was placed on the participants’ right legs.
This device heated a small area of their skin to 120° F, a temperature that most people find painful, over a five-minute period.
The scans taken after meditation training showed that every participant’s pain ratings were reduced, with decreases ranging from 11 to 93 per cent, Dr Zeidan said.
At the same time, meditation significantly reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, an area that is crucially involved in creating the feeling of where and how intense a painful stimulus is.
The scans taken before meditation training showed activity in this area was very high.
However, when participants were meditating during the scans, activity in this important pain-processing region could not be detected.
The research also showed that meditation increased brain activity in areas including the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbito-frontal cortex.
This is where the brain stores its experience of pain and comes up with coping mechanisms.
“We found a big effect – about a 40 per cent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 per cent reduction in pain unpleasantness,” said Dr Zeiden.
“Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 per cent.”
Dr Zeidan and colleagues believe that meditation has great potential for clinical use because so little training was required to produce such dramatic pain-relieving effects.
“This study shows that meditation produces real effects in the brain and can provide an effective way for people to substantially reduce their pain without medications,” Dr Zeidan said.