Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pain relief: meditation better than drugs, study finds

When Subhana Barzaghi was a midwife she taught breathing and meditation techniques to relieve the pain caused by contractions.

"Most of us have a habitual reaction to pain - an aversion that we react against," Subhana, who is now a meditation teacher at North Sydney's Bluegum Sangha, explains.

"Meditation teaches us to observe rather than get caught up in the strong sensations we are experiencing. We learn to stop labeling and therefore stop reacting. In this way, instead of tightening up against it and resisting, which causes further tension, we start to soften into it. As we do this, the pain can begin to soften and subside."

Recently, the 5000 year old intuitive teachings of meditation were given the backing of science. A report from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center states that meditation can be more effective than morphine.

"This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation," said Fadel Zeidan, PhD, lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. "We found a big effect – about a 40 per cent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 per cent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 per cent."

In the study, 15 volunteers, who had never previously meditated, were taught mindfulness meditation techniques over four 20-minute sessions. Mindfulness meditation teaches the individual to focus the attention on an object, such as the breath.

"This concentration brings the awareness to the present moment, allowing the individual to experience what's going on at a subtle level, " Subhana explains. "As the mind stops jumping around like a 24-hour TV channel, we develop our sense of calm and begin to cultivate equanimity and serenity. In this way, we enhance our own natural relaxation response."

During the study, participants had their brain activity measured, with an arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI), both before and after meditation, while they were subjected to a pain-inducing heating device - heated to 120 farenheit or almost 50 degrees celsius - over five-minute periods.
The scans found that after meditation, participant's pain was reduced by as much as 93 per cent. They also showed that activity in the somatosensory cortex - the region of the brain associated with pain response - which was rapid prior to meditation, was significantly diminished afterwards. Movement in the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbito-frontal cortex however, was increased after meditation.
"These areas all shape how the brain builds an experience of pain from nerve signals that are coming in from the body," says Robert C Coghill, PhD, senior author of the study and associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist. "Consistent with this function, the more that these areas were activated by meditation the more that pain was reduced. One of the reasons that meditation may have been so effective in blocking pain was that it did not work at just one place in the brain, but instead reduced pain at multiple levels of processing."
As a result of the study, Wake Forest recommended meditation be used as standard clinical practice to deal with pain.
This scientific endorsement came as a welcome, but not unexpected result for those in the profession.
"With guidance from a trained practitioner, mindfulness meditation allows you to achieve a level of focus and concentration where you are deeply calm and even blissful," Subhana says. "Certainly, this shifting of mind and body state at times of intense stress has the power to be stronger than drugs."
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1 comment:

  1. This has been my own personal experience and has been mirrored by so many women that I can't even count them. I know that many women rely on the promise of medication because of fear, fear of pain, fear of the unknown. The problem is that the promise is no promise at all. There are reasons for pain medications.....even in labor, but they are used so frivolously and often practitioners prey on women's fear to get them to use medication so that they can control the labor. In a healthy labor, the overuse is incredibly irresponsible and CAUSES the need for greater intervention. Meditation is a life skill that you will use every day as a parent, why not start now?


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