A recent study from the Wake Forest School of Medicine may give insight into why some people experience pain more intensely than others. The research study suggests that the degree to which a person is mindful may impact their experience of pain. The study is published in the journal PAIN.1
Mindfulness: being aware of the present moment without too much emotional reaction or judgment
“Mindfulness is related to being aware of the present moment without too much emotional reaction or judgment,” said the study’s lead author, Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the medical school, part of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “We now know that some people are more mindful than others, and those people seemingly feel less pain.”
The study aimed to assess whether “dispositional mindfulness,” or in other words, a person’s natural level of mindfulness, was associated with a lower pain sensitivity, as well as analyze the brain mechanisms involved.
Painful heat stimulation administered while being monitored by fMRI
Seventy-six healthy participants were included in the study. None had ever meditated. They were asked to complete the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory, a clinical measure of mindfulness, to determine a baseline of mindfulness. A painful heat stimulation was then administered while they were monitored by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Degree of mindfulness directly impacts experience of pain
The fMRI scans showed that a higher level of dispositional mindfulness did correlate to a greater deactivation of a region of the brain called the posterior cingulate cortex, a central neural node of the default mode network. In individuals who reported a higher level of pain, activation of this region was greater.
Default mode deactivates whenever you are performing any task
“Default mode deactivates whenever you are performing any kind of task, such as reading or writing. Default mode network is reactivated whenever the individual stops performing a task and reverts to self-related thoughts, feelings and emotions. The results from our study showed that mindful individuals are seemingly less caught up in the experience of pain, which was associated with lower pain reports.”
Study showed new neurophysiological information
The study showed new neurophysiological information suggesting that people with a higher degree of mindfulness show less activation in the posterior cingulate cortex and also experience less pain. Individuals with lower mindfulness showed greater activation of this region of the brain and also felt more pain.
Study supports further research in mindfulness & treatment of pain
This study supports further research in mindfulness as it pertains to pain. This may have positive implications for the treatment of chronic pain conditions that do not respond to conventional therapies.
- Zeidan F, Salomons T, Farris SR, et al. Neural Mechanisms Supporting the Relationship between Dispositional Mindfulness and Pain. Pain. 2018
Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review that has been in print since 2005 and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.