Mindfulness and Pain: What the Research Tells Us

The most important studies illuminating the science of how mindfulness impacts pain intensity and how it impacts a person’s perception of pain.

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Mindfulness meditation—the practice of bringing focused attention to whatever is happening in and around you, with an attitude of interest and openness—has been found to decrease stress, boost concentration, and increase feelings of connection with others, among other benefits. And it supports mental and emotional health in helping to manage conditions such as anxiety and depression, and by increasing resiliency.

Over the past decade there has been strong interest in learning how some of the benefits of mindfulness might help people better deal with pain. Dozens of studies have put mindfulness to the test against pain, and particularly for two key markers: how mindfulness impacts pain intensity and how it impacts a person’s perception of pain. The results are encouraging.

The challenge in treating pain, says researcher Fadel Zeidan, whose lab at University of California, San Diego, studies the brain mechanisms involved with pain is that “Everyone’s pain is different.”

The experience of pain results from the interactions of many influences, including psychological, cognitive, and contextual factors, such as mood or gender—even the weather can affect it. 

“Mindfulness practice is alleviating the processing of pain, from the site of injury up the…