July 11, 2011

IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD:

Thinking Away the Pain: Meditation as cheap, self-administered morphine (JONAH LEHRER, 7/10/11, WSJ)

Learning to meditate altered brain activity in the very same regions, such as the insula and anterior cingulate cortex, that are targeted by next-generation pain medications. It's as if the subjects were administering their own painkillers.

While this research demonstrates the therapy's practicality—it typically took less than two hours of training to see a marked improvement—it's not the first time that scientists have demonstrated a connection between meditation and reduced sensitivity to pain. Previous studies have shown that experienced Zen meditators have significantly higher pain thresholds and that meditation training can reduce the anxiety associated with intense discomfort.

But meditation isn't the only mind-based approach that has gotten impressive results. Researchers at Duke University recently looked at a wide variety of psychological interventions for chronic lower back pain, including cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback and hypnosis. In almost every case, these treatments proved effective, leading to improved health outcomes at a fraction of the cost of conventional medical approaches.

The larger lesson is that, for far too long, we've been treating pain as a purely physical problem, a sensation rooted in the breakdown of the flesh. As a result, we've invested in costly and often ineffective surgeries, such as spinal fusion, that attempt to fix the mechanical failure.

But this approach oversimplifies an extremely complex condition. It's now clear that pain is best understood as a mental state concerning the body, an objective sensation terribly twisted by the brain. And that's why these psychological interventions sometimes work better than scalpels: They help us to untwist our thoughts.


Oer we could just give them placebos and pretend they're a new miracle cure.


Posted by at July 11, 2011 5:42 AM
  

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