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Can mindfulness lower your pain?

Some people have an innate ability to sustain attention in the present moment, without worrying about the future. Such people feel less pain when exposed to painful stimuli.

Executive Summary

People, who are able to sustain attention to the current moment, feel lesser pain to stimuli. This ability, called mindfulness, can be developed as a technique to control pain, without medication.


Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment without worrying about the future. Innately mindful people are able to non-reactively sustain attention to the current moment. However, the exact neural mechanisms that support the innate or dispositional mindfulness are not understood.

Pain Sensation

On the other hand, different people display varying sensitivity to pain. It is a function of interactions between sensory, cognitive, affective, and dispositional factors.

Cognitive factors are those characteristics of a person that affect performance and learning. Functions such as attention, memory, and reasoning are called cognitive functions. They lead to improvement or decline in one’s performance.

Affective factors are emotional factors that influence learning. They lead to improvement or decline in one’s learning..

Dispositional factors are individual characteristics that influence behaviour and actions in a person. Factors such as temperament, genetics, and individual personality traits are dispositional factors.

New Study

Anecdotally, people who are naturally more mindful have less pain. The assumed reason is because they accept pain more easily and don’t spend much time thinking or worrying about it.

In a new study published in the journal Pain, people who are naturally mindful reported less pain as well as lower activation in a part of the brain involved in reaction to sensations.

Scientists at Wake Forest University took 76 healthy individuals who had no experience in meditation. These participants were evaluated for their innate mindfulness using Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory test.

These individuals were positioned in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner and a series of harmless, but sometimes uncomfortable, heat stimuli were to their lower legs. The participants were asked to rate the unpleasantness of the heat stimulus and the intensity of the pain they felt. The changes in the blood flow in their brain were recorded.


Individuals with higher innate mindfulness reported less pain, during exposure to heat stimuli. They also displayed a higher deactivation of a region of brain involved in attention and subjective emotional responses to sensations. This part of the brain has a role in how one reacts to what one is experiencing.

The Way Forward

The findings may help in the development of better non-medicinal approaches to pain management, such as biofeedback, mindfulness meditation, or behavioral therapies.

The brain mechanism relating innate mindfulness and pain has not been identified.

For simpler English, read: New study links mindfulness, brain changes, and pain sensitivity.

Actionable tip

Consider mindfulness as a technique to control pain without medication.
Ability to sustain attention to the current moment lessens the pain to stimuli.

First published on: 13th July, 2018

Photo by theformfitness on


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