Meditation Affects Brain Activation to Reduce Pain

Brain activity altered in multiple areas responsible for cognitive modulation of pain

FRIDAY, April 8 (HealthDay News) -- Meditation significantly reduces both pain intensity and unpleasantness, and the pain relief is associated with alterations in brain regions related to cognitive modulation of pain, according to a study published in the April 6 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., and colleagues assessed the neural mechanisms by which mindfulness meditation influences pain in healthy participants. Participants underwent four days of mindfulness meditation training in the presence of noxious stimulation. Brain activity was measured before and after meditation using arterial spin labeling functional magnetic resonance imaging. Differences in the magnitude of meditation-related pain reductions were analyzed for specific brain regions.

The investigators found that meditation significantly reduced pain intensity by 40 percent and pain unpleasantness by 57 percent compared to rest. Meditation was shown to decrease the pain-related activation of the contralateral primary somatosensory cortex. Reduced pain intensity was associated with increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula. Reduction in pain unpleasantness was associated with orbitofrontal cortex activation and thalamic deactivation.

"These data indicate that meditation engages multiple brain mechanisms that alter the construction of the subjectively available pain experience from afferent information," the authors write.

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