Meditative breathing may help manage chronic pain

April 8, 2010
A new study, completed by scientists at ASU and the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, is the first to directly examine the benefits of breathing rate on physical and emotional reaction to pain. The benefit of slow breathing in relieving pain was greatest in healthy women.

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study published in the journal Pain offers support for the benefits of yoga-style breathing and meditation to help control chronic pain.

The research, completed by scientists at Arizona State University and the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, is the first to directly examine the benefits of breathing rate on physical and to pain.

In essence, the researchers put meditation to the test. During the study trials, participants where subjected to brief pulses of moderately painful heat on their palms. They were asked to report what they felt in three ways: how strong was the pain, how unpleasant was the pain, and how much the pain affected their

By simply instructing participants to pace their breathing to an ellipse on a screen in front of them, the researchers eliminated expectations that could bias results. By actually administering a painful heat stimulus the researchers could also control the amount of pain each person received, and could compare pain ratings made when the person was breathing normally with their slow breathing.

The study involved two groups of women - 27 diagnosed with chronic pain from and 25 healthy women of the same age.

Compared to normal breathing, slow breathing reduced ratings of pain intensity and unpleasantness as well as negative emotion. The benefit of slow breathing in relieving pain was greatest in the healthy women.

Not all women with Fibromyalgia benefited from slow breathing. Only those who also reported having “a steady diet” of positive emotion in their lives - who had the “capacity” to feel positive - felt less pain when breathing at half their normal rates.

“Slow breathing provides a natural means for dampening activity in the stress system of the brain, leading to a reduction in pain,” said Alex Zautra, Foundation Professor of Psychology at ASU and the study’s lead author.

The first change that occurs with slower breathing is greater parasympathetic response, which provides a counterbalance to sympathetic activation that is often aroused by pain and that engenders feelings of anxiety and nervous tension, Zutra said.

“A greater state of calm induced with slower breathing also opens the mind to a greater capacity to feel emotions other than pain, providing perspective, flexibility and choice in the regulation of inner states,” he said. “In doing so, slow breathing reduces the dominance of the fight/flight response within us extending the calm influence of parasympathetic activation to allow for better emotion regulation and cognitive shifts from helplessness to action.”

For Fibromyalgia patients, however, meditative breathing alone is insufficient. Interventions that help them to experience positive emotions and learn to harness those feelings are needed to reignite their capacity to be resilient in the face of .

“Treatment for Fibromyalgia includes medication, but that only helps some - rheumatologists estimate even the latest medications are only 35 percent affective in relieving pain,” Zautra said. “Physical therapy and new mind-body methods designed to sustain positive affect and teach methods for coping with stressful situations are vital components of treatment.”

This study was funded by the Arizona’s Institute for Mental Health Research. Davis and Zautra are now conducting clinical trials to test the benefit of their mind-body intervention in a five-year project funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Dog ownership linked to lower mortality

November 17, 2017
A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower ...

New shoe makes running 4 percent easier, 2-hour marathon possible, study shows

November 17, 2017
Eleven days after Boulder-born Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon in new state-of-the-art racing flats known as "4%s," University of Colorado Boulder researchers have published the study that inspired the shoes' ...

Vaping while pregnant could cause craniofacial birth defects, study shows

November 16, 2017
Using e-cigarettes during pregnancy could cause birth defects of the oral cavity and face, according to a recent Virginia Commonwealth University study.

Study: For older women, every movement matters

November 16, 2017
Folding your laundry or doing the dishes might not be the most enjoyable parts of your day. But simple activities like these may help prolong your life, according to the findings of a new study in older women led by the University ...

When vegetables are closer in price to chips, people eat healthier, study finds

November 16, 2017
When healthier food, like vegetables and dairy products, is pricier compared to unhealthy items, like salty snacks and sugary sweets, Americans are significantly less likely to have a high-quality diet, a new Drexel University ...

Children's exposure to secondhand smoke may be vastly underestimated by parents

November 15, 2017
Four out of 10 children in the US are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the American Heart Association. A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that parents who smoke mistakenly rely on their own physical senses ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.