Women undergoing natural childbirth have long endorsed the concept that you can think your way past the pain. Using meditation or guided imagery, it's possible to transcend pain, at least to some degree.
Two new studies provide more evidence that something as simple as thinking about a pretty image can help with mild pain. In one study, researchers at the University of Montreal gave 13 study participants mildly painful electric shocks which caused a knee-jerk reaction that could be measured by magnetic resonance imaging. During the shocks, participants were shown a series of images that were pleasant (such as water-skiing in summer), vicious (a bear) or neutral (a book). They found that the pain of the shocks was perceived as being worse when people were looking at unpleasant pictures. The study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Emotions -- or mood -- can alter how we react to pain since they're interlinked," the lead author of the study, Mathieu Roy, said in a news release. "Non-pharmaceutical interventions -- mood enhancers such as photography or music -- could be used in healthcare to help alleviate pain. These interventions would be inexpensive and adaptable to several fields."
In another study published this week, in the Journal of Pain, researches found that relatively short and simple mindfulness meditation training can help with pain management. Other studies have shown that people who meditate regularly deal better with pain. But the new study showed that a three-day, one-hour-a-day program can produce similar effects.
The authors of the study, from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, suggest that mindfulness training reduces the awareness of pain and sensitivity to it because it trains the brain to pay attention to the sensations at the current moment rather than anticipating future pain or dwelling on past pain. This approach also reduces anxiety.
"With the meditation training they would acknowledge the pain, they realize what it is, but just let it go," the lead author of the study, Fadel Zeidan, said in a news release. "They learn to bring their attention back to the present."
-- Shari Roan
Photo: A nurse administers a flu shot in Provo, Utah. Credit: George Frey / Bloomberg