Mindfulness reduces pain sensitivity
Nobody likes the feeling of pain but there are individual differences in pain sensitivity and some people feel less pain than others. Researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine have undertaken research that reveals mindfulness is responsible for less pain sensitivity in some people.
Trait mindfulness is an innate capacity to sustain attention to the present moment, without any reaction, and is associated with lower clinical pain outcomes. But there is no data on dispositional mindfulness — an individual’s innate or natural level of mindfulness and its association with pain sensitivity, which is what the researchers aimed to find out.
The study showed that people with higher mindfulness ratings had less activation in the posterior cingulate cortex and experienced less pain.
The researchers analysed data from a 2015 study that compared mindfulness meditation to placebo analgesia. In this study 76 participants who had never meditated completed the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI) — a reliable clinical measurement of mindfulness — to determine their baseline levels. They were administered painful heat stimulation at 35°C and 49°C while they underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging. Whole brain analyses revealed that higher dispositional mindfulness during painful heat was associated with greater deactivation of a brain region called the posterior cingulate cortex, a central neural node of the default mode network. The analyses also found that in those who reported higher pain, there was greater activation of this brain region.
The default mode network extends from the posterior cingulate cortex to the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain and is continuously feeding information back and forth. This network is responsible for self-related feelings and mind wandering. The default mode deactivates when you are engaged in a task such as reading or writing. But the network is reactivated again once you stop the task and reverts to thoughts about self, feelings and emotions. The study showed that people with higher mindfulness ratings had less activation in the posterior cingulate cortex and experienced less pain. Those with lower mindfulness ratings had a greater activation of this part of the brain and also felt more pain.
The results suggest that mindful people are less caught up in the experience of pain and therefore feel less pain. Mindfulness can be increased with relatively short periods of mindfulness training and can prove to be effective in pain relief, especially for those who deal with chronic pain on a daily basis.
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