Mindfulness Found to Reduce Pain

At Regency Nursing Centers NJ, we are all about mindfulness.

Indeed, it permeates everything we do and it begins from the very top, with our leadership team.

Did you know that according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), chronic pain affects more than 25 million people in the United States, with particularly high prevalence in older people. Although some medications offer temporary relief from chronic pain, these medications are often accompanied by severe side effects, as in addition to a risk of addiction.

A recent NIH study, published in the journal PAIN, showed that the way people go about their daily routine, and in particular what they think about, can have a dramatic effect in terms of pain relief.

Researchers refer to the way a person goes about their daily routine and what they think about as “mindfulness.” Dr. Fadel Zeidan, an assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina and lead author of the study, explains that mindfulness is related to being aware of the present moment without excessive emotional reaction or judgment. A mindful person focuses on what is going on around them more than what is going on within them.

The study examined the neurological aspects of this phenomenon in an effort to find effective strategies for the relief of chronic pain. Dr. Zeidan and his colleagues studied a group of participants whose baseline mindfulness levels were assessed via the standard Freiberg Mindfulness Inventory.

The researchers administered both painful and non painful stimulation to the participants, while analyzing their brain activity using MRIs. Researchers found that that mindfulness correlated with lower pain sensitivity, by means of a deactivation of the brain circuit known as the default mode network.

The default mode network consists of several interconnected brain areas that are activated when one is focusing on their internal state more than they are paying attention to what is happening around them. When a person is highly aware of their own inner state, drawing their attention inwards and becoming involved with their own thoughts and emotions, their default mode network becomes highly active. This state is associated with higher sensitivity to the awareness of pain.

Conversely, the default mode network becomes deactivated whenever people are involved with mindful tasks. For example, something as simple as reading a book, drawing a picture, talking with a friend, or even writing an email, will help deactivate the default mode network.

The main areas that make up the default mode network are the posterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex. The study found that higher levels of mindfulness correlated directly with greater deactivation of the posterior cingulate cortex. The more pain people felt, the more active the posterior cingulate cortex was.

What causes this difference? Dr. Zeidan explains that, “Mindful individuals are seemingly less caught up in the experience of pain, which is associated with lower pain reports.”

The take away message for us is that being involved with life in a direct way will not only lead to us to becoming more positive and happier people, but can even alleviate chronic pain.

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