People who meditate regularly find it easier to cope with pain because their brains anticipate it less, a study has found.
The findings could help develop new treatments from those who suffer from conditions that cause chronic pain.
Scientists from Manchester University compared non-meditators with a group who had meditated. Although they had varying levels of experience they had all tried mindfulness meditation, which seeks to anchor the person in the present.
Brain scans revealed that the most advanced meditators were the least likely to anticipate pain induced by a laser device, which made the experience more bearable.
Lead researcher Dr Christopher Brown, said: ‘Meditation is becoming increasingly popular as a way to treat chronic illness such as the pain caused by arthritis.
‘Recently, a mental health charity called for meditation to be routinely available on the NHS to treat depression, which occurs in up to 50 per cent of people with chronic pain.
‘However, scientists have only just started to look into how meditation might reduce the emotional impact of pain.’
The study, to be published in the journal Pain, found that participants who meditated showed unusual activity in the brain region known to be involved in controlling attention and thought processes when potential threats are perceived.
Dr Brown said: ‘The results of the study confirm how we suspected meditation might affect the brain.
‘Meditation trains the brain to be more present-focused and therefore to spend less time anticipating future negative events. This may be why meditation is effective at reducing the recurrence of depression, which makes chronic pain considerably worse.’
Dr Brown said the findings should encourage further research into how the brain is changed by meditation practice.
He said: ‘Although we found that meditators anticipate pain less and find pain less unpleasant, it’s not clear precisely how meditation changes brain function over time to produce these effects.
‘However, the importance of developing new treatments for chronic pain is clear: 40 per cent of people who suffer from chronic pain report inadequate management of their pain problem.’
In the UK, more than 10 million adults consult their GP each year with arthritis and related conditions. The estimated annual direct cost of these conditions to health and social services is £5.7billion.
Study co-author Professor Anthony Jones said: ‘There may also be some types of patient with chronic pain who benefit more from meditation-based therapies than others.
‘If we can find out the mechanism of action of meditation for reducing pain, we may be able to screen patients in the future for deficiencies in that mechanism, allowing us to target the treatment to those people.’[via the Daily Mail]