Focus, zen, meditate and your pain may go away or diminish. A new MRI brain image study shows that just after a short period of meditation, pain intensity is weakened when subjected to unpleasent stimuli such as extreme heat.
The study participants were taught a meditation technique known as focused attention, which involves paying close attention to breathing patterns while acknowledging and letting go of thoughts that distract you.
Fadel Zeidan, PhD, who is a postdoctoral fellow at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, says:
"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."
Prior to learning the meditation technique, brain imaging showed significant activity in a key area of the brain when the participants were subjected to intense heat, but this activity was reduced when they were meditating.
"Consistent with this function, the more that these areas were activated by meditation the more that pain was reduced. One of the reasons that meditation may have been so effective in blocking pain was that it did not work at just one place in the brain, but instead reduced pain at multiple levels of processing."
Many feel that where you put your attention, you put your energy. Where you put your attention, you put your consciousness. You draw into your life the things to which you give your attention, whether you want them or not.
While the MRIs were being performed, a device was placed on each participant's right calf that delivered 120 degrees of heat, a temperature that most people find painful. The heat was kept on the skin for 12 seconds and then taken off the skin for the same amount of time over a total of 5 minutes.
Even though the MRI was very loud, most of the participants were able to successfully block out the noise and the pain from the heat source and focus on their breathing.
"We found a big effect, about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent."
A pain scale measures a patient's pain intensity or other features. Pain scales are based on self-report, observational (behavioral), or physiological data. Self-report is considered primary and should be obtained if possible. Pain scales are available for neonates, infants, children, adolescents, adults, seniors, and persons whose communication is impaired. Pain scores are sometimes regarded as "the Fifth Vital Sign."
The type of meditation that was used in the study is known as Shamatha. Like other forms of mindfulness meditation, it entails learning how to observe what's going on in one's mind and body without judging, and while maintaining focus on one's breathing or a chanted mantra.
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Meditation...No Substitute for Pain Meds
posted by Carolyn on 14 Apr 2011 at 10:43 pm
I agree with the previous opinion by Dennis. He has said concisely and at length what I believe. I also have chronic pain that's not as bad as his, but still it's mediated with pain meds that I take five times daily. They enable me to function with less pain without being altogether dependent on my spouse, otherwise.
Certainly, I'm not pain-free, but they are my life line to some normalcy of living. Yes, I'd prefer to be able to meditate to be free of pain. And I'll admit there's a little to be said for it and even listening to music. Yet, most often, the more relaxed I am, the worse I feel with the stiffness, spasms, and lower back pain.
Moving about as much as I feel that I'm able with the bit of relief I get from the pain meds is much preferred to sitting quietly and observing myself in pain. I'm hoping that someday, there'll be something for chronic pain sufferers that will eliminate the need for strong drugs, but I don't believe that anything that resembles meditation is that hoped-for panacea.
Volunteers were healthy, pain free and subjected to very mild pain/discomfort stimuli at one specific location on the skin for short durations and a short study length. This certainly cannot and should not be compared to moderate and severe acute pain or chronic debilitating pain 24 hrs per day 7 days per week which requires powerful pain medicines like morphine, oxycodone, etc. in order for a patient to be able to function at all. Strong pain medicines provide the difference of being able to get up out of a chair or a bed and walk into the kitchen, prepare a meal, wash dishes, take a shower, go to an appointment or a store compared to not being able to get up and do those things.
The mind can and does suppress pain but only to a limited degree, with or without meditation (which can be helpful). Chronic pain sufferers are very well aware of this fact and practice mental techniques of pain suppression constantly. We have to. Incidentally, deep breathing and holding the breath in is a natural response to severe pain, it helps the brain to release endomorphins to help relieve pain. The mind's ability to do this is nothing new and has been experienced by humans and animals suffering from pain throughout their evolution or since their 'creation' if you you prefer.
However, moderate to severe pain, whether acute or chronic is far beyond the mind's ability to effectively suppress to a therapeutic level which would alleviate conscious suffering and allow a patient to be functional.
The comparison of pain relief in this study to morphine is utterly ridiculous, incompetent, invalid and self serving, a tremendous exaggeration for which Zeidan, a PhD, should be apologetic - because the relative pain levels for someone taking morphine are hundreds of times worse (if not a thousand times worse)and much more intense and debilitating than a hot pad placed on the calf for 12 seconds. Sure, the mind can effectively suppress such a mild stimuli, but imagine yourself running a car off of a mountain road and rolling down a mountain side 20 times, bruised and battered to the bone from head to feet with multiple fractured joints and trying to meditate your way through your hospital stay, re-constructive surgeries and physical therapy for several years without any pain medicine. Even with a severe toothache, the best of mental techniques to suppress pain are not going to be effective.
I have much experience with severe pain and chronic pain. I feel like I'm recovering from such a car wreck 24 hrs per day, 7 days per week. My constant moderate to severe pain from shoulders to feet is very debilitating. I am being treated with extended release morphine tablets 3 times per day. It does not make me pain free, but it's enough to allow me to be able to get up and walk or shuffle around the house and function, to be able to take a shower, to get out of the house now and then when I need to. Without it I would need in-home support services at a cost to taxpayers and would probably consider the Dr. Kevorkian solution of assisted suicide because the pain is that severe, it is constant and becomes intolerable.
The readers of news reports about this study are being greatly mislead, especially by the comparison made to morphine which is an entirely invalid comparison. Medical specialists in pain management will spot that immediately. At best the study is an advertisement for meditation techniques that can help suppress mild pain or help slightly with more serious pain but in no way can this replace the necessity of strong pain medicines in more serious acute and chronic pain sufferers. This is the wrong impression that readers of these news articles will get.
To extend my comment to a closely related issue, this study will also tend to further support the DEA's war against pain medicines, prescribing doctors and their patients in the 'War on Drugs.' This is terribly mis-aimed. WE, (doctors and patients) and the medicines we need for survival are NOT the problem. The problem is the psychology of drug abusers and if it's not abuse of illicitly obtained pain medicines it would be something else, and something else again. Please quit targeting us and the medicines we need and instead target the real problem; the individual abusers. This mis-direction is causing much unnecessary difficulty and suffering for people who have very legitimate needs for effective pain medicines and are often denied. I had to deal with this for several years and came to realize why Dr. Kevorkians patients came to chose assisted suicide. It becomes so difficult and intolerable that giving up ones life seems like a viable remedy- when all that is really needed is adequate relief from pain. Doctors are intimidated by the DEA breathing over their shoulders, closely monitoring every single prescription they write for a controlled substance while under the threat of losing their license to prescribe all controlled substance medicines if they make an error. Because of that, many doctors and clinics routinely avoid prescribing to those who are truly in need of effective pain management. Let the medical professionals and experts decide who needs or does not need pain medicines, not Law Enforcement, and please target the real problem - the abusers themselves, not the medical system and those in need of effective pain management.
I'm really astonished with some of the discoveries "modern medicine" is making. To discover something as groundbreaking as the mind's ability to lower pain response little more than a decade after discovering that babies feel pain borders on earth-shattering. I look forward to future developments.
'MRI Shows Mind Over Matter May Really Diminish Pain'
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