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Posts Tagged ‘Fibromyalgia’

28 February 2011 Meditative breathing enhances pain relief and may help in fibromyalgia

by Matthew Hogg BSc (Hons) , EiR

Breathing techniques such as those used in various forms of meditation may aid pain relief both directly and by enhancing the effectiveness of drugs according to the lead researcher of a new study.

Mind-body techniques such as meditation and focusing attention on the breath are becoming increasingly popular as medical research results continue to break down the supposed barriers between the functioning and health of mind and body.

It is now well established that the mind and body are not two seperate entities that function independently of one another but are in fact in constant bidirectional communication and each is dependent on the other. Research has shown for example that our state of mind can have a significant impact on how effectively our immune systems function.

Now researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) in cooperation with the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix are looking at how breathing techniques influence pain perception and are interested in finding out if such interventions which are easy to learn and essentially free may help those struggling with fibromyalgia.

An ongoing study by the group is looking specifically at how meditative breathing affects the way women with fibromyalgia respond to pain in the form of heat pulses.

The team led by Alex Zautra, a Professor of Psychology at ASU have conducted previous studies on the effects of meditation and breathing techniques on the physiology of the body and pain perception. Professor Zautra in an interview with the College Times explained:

One of the methods by which a person can regain a kind of physiological balance and homeostatic state is through a relaxation method, and some are more valuable than others. One of the methods people have been doing since ancient times in the Eastern world is meditation, whether it’s local or mindfulness meditation, and breathing is a big part of that; slowing down your breathing rate. And that’s what we tried to put into the laboratory.

Professor Zautra and colleagues have demonstrated that when breathing rate is slowed it activates the parasympathetic nervous system – the branch of the autonomic nervous system that is dominant during relaxation. As a result deep breathing slows the heart, reduces blood pressure and leads to greater heart-rate variability, which is a greater sense of capacity to be both alert and relaxed.

The last effect may seem paridoxical and difficult to comprehend but Professor Zautra explains that “…what we teach with chronic pain patients is, ‘Yes, you’re in pain, but that’s not all you feel. What else are you feeling at the time?’ It expands their horizons to allow themselves to do more than be embattled with the pain they have and to see many other emotions; some they can appreciate more if they can allow themselves a greater latitude to understand their own feelings.”

A five-year study is now underway to examine whether meditative practices could benefit patients with fibromyalgia. Unfortunately the team have not released any data on this as yet but anecdotal evidence from patients who already meditate and the previous physiological changes already demonstrated by this research group and others suggest such practices hold promise as part of coping with the pain of fibromyalgia.

Professor Zautra takes a pragmatic perspective suggesting that having spoken with rheumatologists who struggle to help their fibromyalgia patients with medications alone, a combination of meditative practices and medication may be the most beneficial solution for many with the condition and would offer physicians another way to help their patients.

21 January 2011 Meditative breathing may help manage chronic pain

From Arizona State University News


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.


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 emotional reaction 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 emotional state

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 Fibromyalgia 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 chronic pain.

“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.

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