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Meditation Eases Chronic Pain, Prevents Depression

by Joni Holderman on June 15, 2010

A recent study in the journal Pain shows how mediation may reduce depression and ease chronic pain. People with a commitment to regular mediation focused more on the present, and spent less time anticipating pain. This in turn resulted in them feeling less pain.

An estimated 40 percent of those with chronic pain are unable to manage it, including many people with arthritis. The study focused on a variety of different meditation formats. Participants’ experience with meditation ranged from a few months to many decades.

The study found that only those with an ongoing commitment to meditation experienced pain relief. Mediators with no long-term commitment to meditation had pain levels similar to participants who did not meditate.

According to researcher Dr. Christopher Brown of the University of Manchester in the U.K. found that meditation was effective in treating depression, and in preventing recurrence of depression. Up to 50 percent of chronic pain sufferers are also depressed, and there is some evidence that depression increases the perception of chronic pain.

A mental health charity in England has recommended that patients of the National Health Service receive free training in mediation for pain management. Apparently, the patients’ physical discomfort did not change, but their subjective experience of pain was different.

According to brain scans, participants who meditated regularly spent less time anticipating pain. When they were subjected to pain, they perceived it as milder and of shorter duration than patients in the group that did not meditate.  They showed unusual activity in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain known for regulating attention and thought processes, particularly when the person is threatened.

In the U.K. study, Dr. Brown used a laser to induce pain in a variety of subjects, and measured their subjective responses. While promising, the study did not meet the most rigorous scientific tests because patients were not randomly assigned to groups. It is also not clear that the reaction to a transitory, external pain source such as a laser beam would be the same as the reaction to a permanent, internal source of pain such as severe chronic arthritis.

By Joni Holderman, writepros@hotmail.com, contributing reporter for Mental Health News.

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