Mind Over Matter: Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Management

Recent research on the neurobiological mechanisms of pain is providing insights into the ways mindfulness practice can help with pain management. Researcher Sara Adaes’ article “Mind Over Matter: Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Management” is a fascinating digest of recent studies that I encourage you to read in full.

I’m a big proponent of mindfulness meditation to reduce pain and improve health. Research continues to support my view and I hope you’ll consider starting your own mindfulness practice. Here are a few key points of Adaes’ article that I hope will convince you to learn more.

  • Mindfulness meditation is not merely a placebo effect; a 2015 study in The Journal of Neurosciencecompared the effect of active mindfulness meditation with a fake technique – “one that would lead the participants to believe that they were practicing mindfulness meditation, but that would only engage relaxation mechanisms. The study found that mindfulness meditation decreased pain intensity and unpleasantness beyond the analgesic effects of placebo or sham mindfulness meditation.” [1]
  • In that 2015 study, “effective mindfulness meditation engaged brain mechanisms that were indeed distinct from those of placebo-induced analgesia.[2]
  • A follow up study in The Journal of Neuroscience explored the mechanisms that are affected by mindfulness meditation. “Using naloxone, a drug that blocks the effect of opioids, it was shown that the inhibition of the opioid system did not affect analgesia induced by mindfulness meditation. In the control group, on the other hand, the blockade of the opioid system induced an increase in pain perception, as expected … the fact that [the opiod system] apparently has no influence on the mechanisms of mindfulness meditation-induced analgesia is intriguing.”[3]
  • “Mindfulness meditation may be a complex, cognitive process that likely engages multiple brain networks and neurochemical mechanisms to attenuate pain.”[4]
  • A reduced activity of the thalamus has also been reported [as a result of effective mindfulness meditation, which] … indicates that it may somehow diminish sensory processing, or that it may prevent this sensory information from reaching conscious awareness.”[5]

I agree with Ms. Adaes’ conclusion that we have more research to do before we fully understand why mindfulness meditation is effective for pain management. I also know from my own experience and others that it works. Give it a try!


Dr. Pamm



[1] Sara Adaes, “Mind Over Matter: Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Management” BrainBlogger, May 1, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.