Pain: Medication or Meditation?

  • Meditation could be a viable alternative to traditional pain medication… and it has none of its side-effects! 
  • Researchers say that just ten minutes of mindfulness meditation could be used as an alternative to painkillers, according to research by Leeds Beckett University.
  • The latest technological developments, which include home-use “interactive” training programmes, make this a viable option for most people 
Results of a study by group of UK-based researchers suggest that even a single ten-minute mindfulness meditation session administered by a novice therapist can lead to improved tolerance of pain, raise pain threshold

and decrease anxiety towards pain. The research was carried out by the School of Clinical and Applied Sciences at Leeds Beckett University and used a group of 24 healthy university-aged students (12 men and 12 women). They were randomly split into a control group and a meditation group.

A cold-pressor task was used to cause pain to the participants; this involves the people being tested putting their hand in warm water for two minutes before removing it and placing it immediately into ice water for as long as they could manage. They were instructed to only remove their hand when the pain induced by the ice water became too much and they could no longer tolerate it. The test subjects then either sat quietly for ten minutes (control group) or meditated for ten minutes before repeating the same cold-pressor task a second time.

Five groups of data were then collected from the subjects; anxiety towards pain, pain threshold, pain tolerance, pain intensity and pain unpleasantness. Pre-intervention the scores obtained by the test subject on these measures did not differ greatly between the control and the meditation group, However, following the ten-minute meditation session, the participants from the meditation group saw a significant decrease in anxiety towards pain and a significant increase in both their pain threshold and their tolerance of pain.

Speaking about the results of the study, Dr Osama Tashani, Senior Research Fellow in Pain Studies, said:

“While further research is needed to explore this in a more clinical setting on chronic pain patients, these results do show that a brief mindfulness meditation intervention can be of benefit in pain relief. The ease of application and cost effectiveness of the mindfulness meditation may also make it a viable addition to the arsenal of therapies for pain management.” Dr Tashani continued, “The mindfulness mediation was led by a researcher who was a novice; so in theory clinicians could administer this with little training needed. It’s based on traditional Buddhist teachings which focuses attention and awareness on your breathing.”

We asked Peak Health Online’s own clinical advisers to comment on these findings. Here’s what they had to say:

“It seems likely that two key factors, which typically serve to reduced tolerance to pain and lower our  pain threshold may underlie these research findings. These ‘pain factors’ are physical tension, typified by tensed-up muscles all over the body and secondly, heightened feelings of psychological stress which most people experience whenever they find themselves in challenging or uncomfortable situation. The experimental subjects in this study will have experienced both physical tension and feelings of stress after plunging their hands in the ice water and keeping them their until they could no longer bear the pain. The benefit of relaxation, and of meditation in particular – which is a practice that induces deep states of calm –  is that it can relax both the muscles and tune-down our psychological stress response. This means that with a calm mind, in a calm body, the feelings of pain can no longer be amplified in the way they are when people are tense and worried. This is a nice piece of research and, even though the sample of people used was small in number, it adds to the growing body of evidence that learning to relax is a very powerful way of help a person to cope with any challenging situation. It may not always manage to stop the pain completely, but it’ll certainly make it far easier to cope with on a day-to-day basis.”

Explore More: 

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Source Material: 
We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Leeds Beckett University, who provided the source material for this article.

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