Mindfulness and pain reduction

This a very interesting study which showed that practising mindfulness can alleviate pain. It was carried out by a research group at the University of California.

On the first day of the study, 40 participants had their brains scanned while painful heat was applied to their leg. After experiencing a series of these heat stimuli, participants had to rate their average pain levels during the experiment


Participants were then split into two groups

  1. Mindfulness group – were required to complete four separate 20-minute mindfulness training sessions. During these visits, they were instructed to focus on their breath and reduce self-referential processing by first acknowledging their thoughts, sensations and emotions but then letting them go without judging or reacting to them
  2. Control group – spent their four sessions listening to an audio book.


At the completion of the study groups had their brain activity measured again, but participants in the mindfulness group were now instructed to practise mindfulness during the painful heat, while the control group rested with their eyes closed.

They found that people in the mindfulness group had 32 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 33 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness

They were able to track the changes in the brain scans in both groups which showed a change in the processing of painful sensory information processing. It appears to relate to reduced synchronisation with the thalamus (area of the brain associated with sensory neural processing) and relaying information to areas of the brain involved in how we evaluate life experiences.

The decoupling of synchronisation between the thalamus and these areas seems to lead to reduction in pain.

The lead researcher, Professor Zedain, University of California, said “For many people struggling with chronic pain, what often affects their quality of life most is not the pain itself, but the mental suffering and frustration that comes along with it. Their pain becomes a part of who they are as individuals — something they can’t escape — and this exacerbates their suffering.”

By relinquishing the appraisal of pain, mindfulness meditation may provide a new method for pain treatment. Mindfulness meditation is also free and can be practiced anywhere.

Professor Zedain hopes trainings can be made even more accessible and integrated into standard outpatient procedures.

“We feel like we are on the verge of discovering a novel non-opioid-based pain mechanism in which the default mode network plays a critical role in producing analgesia. We are excited to continue exploring the neurobiology of mindfulness and its clinical potential across various disorders


At ACTforPAIN, we have developed a comprehensive easy to follow online self-management chronic pain program which embodies mindfulness with an acceptance and commitment approach. We have recently had our first NHS commission.


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