Do you ever wonder why some folks have a higher pain tolerance than others?
Researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine have found one answer — mindfulness. And that’s good news, because experts say you can increase your mindfulness and pain tolerance.
Lead author Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest, found that individuals who were innately and naturally more mindful had lower pain sensitivity. He and his team published their findings in the journal PAIN after analyzing data from a 2015 study that compared mindfulness meditation to a placebo analgesia. The team also researched what areas of the brain were involved in the process of pain reduction.
“Mindfulness is related to being aware of the present moment without too much emotional reaction or judgment,” says Zeidan. “We now know that some people are more mindful than others, and those people seemingly feel less pain.”
In the 2015 study, 76 healthy volunteers who had never meditated were clinically measured for their level of mindfulness using what’s called the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory. Then, while undergoing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they were administered painful heat stimulation.
The MRI revealed that people with higher levels of mindfulness showed less activity in the brain region referred to as the posterior cingulate cortex during the painful heat stimulation. People who reported higher pain levels had greater activity in this critical area of the brain.
“Now we have some new ammunition to target this brain region in the development of effective new pain therapies,” said Zeidan. “Based on our previous research, we know we can increase mindfulness through relatively short periods of mindfulness meditation training, so this may prove to be an effective way to provide pain relief for the millions of people suffering from chronic pain.”
Mindfulness can be described as “bringing one’s attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis without judgement.” By focusing on the present, the brain lowers the volume on the circuits that amplify pain.
In fact, an article in Psychology Today stated that mindful meditation has been shown to reduce pain by 56%. According to the article’s author, Danny Penman, Ph.D., accomplished meditators can reduce it by a whopping 90 percent!
“Imaging studies show that mindfulness soothes the brain patterns underlying pain, and over time, these changes take root and alter the structure of the brain itself so that patients no longer feel the pain with the same intensity. Many say they barely feel it at all,” says Penman.
Hospital pain clinics now prescribe mindfulness meditation to help patients cope with the suffering arising from a wide variety of diseases such as cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. It’s also used for chronic back problems, migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue irritable bowel syndrome and even multiple sclerosis, according to the author.
Dr. Penman, co-author of the best-selling book "Mindfulness," is also the author of "You Are Not Your Pain: Using Mindfulness to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress and Restore Well-Being--An Eight Week Program."
“I used mindfulness to cope with the extreme pain of a paragliding accident,” he reveals. “I found mindfulness to be an extremely powerful pain killer and I’m convinced it also accelerated my healing.”
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