Most people are aware that meditation is a practice that involves sitting quietly and watching your thoughts while doing your best to let go of any attachment to them. A good cure for anxiety and depression, but what about using meditation to help relieve you of your physical pain?
In this MSNBC post from Stephanie Pappas, the use of mindfulness meditation as a “painkiller” of sorts is addressed. According to Pappas, even simple meditation has the ability to change the way a person processes pain signals. Citing a current study headed by Fadel Zeidan, a post-doctoral researcher at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, meditation has been found to reduce an individual’s perception of their pain by as much as 57 percent. Researchers using an MRI took both before and after pictures to record brain changes.
The volunteers’ brains mirrored their altered perceptions, according to the abstract. Activity dropped in the thalamus, a deep brain area that relays sensory information from the body to the somatosensory cortex. The somatosensory cortex, located along the side of the brain above the ear, has specialized areas devoted to processing signals from specific body parts. In the meditation-practicing volunteers, the area of the somatosensory cortex linked to the calf was quieted.
Meanwhile, areas associated with pain modulation became more active. Those areas included the orbitofrontal cortex directly behind the eyes and the anterior cingulated cortex deep in the frontal region of the brain. The putamen, a structure buried in the center of the brain, and the nearby insula also showed more activity. Both structures have many functions, including control of movement, self-awareness and perception.
Read more about this study on using meditation to decrease pain here.