A single session of mindfulness meditation is effective in pain management, new study shows

A study found that hypnosis and mindfulness meditation are effective in managing pain even after a single session, with hypnosis showing a slight advantage.

In a groundbreaking study, researchers have uncovered that both hypnosis and mindfulness meditation may be beneficial in pain management, even when applied in a single session.

The study, entitled “Immediate Effects of Hypnosis, Mindfulness Meditation, and Prayer on Cold Pressor Outcomes: A Four-Arm Parallel Experimental Study,” was published in the Journal of Pain Research in December 2022.

The investigation explored the immediate impacts of hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, and Christian prayer on pain intensity and tolerance, revealing that only hypnosis and mindfulness meditation produced significant results on acute pain management, with hypnosis having a slight edge.

Pain management is complex

Pain is an almost ubiquitous human experience, with acute pain negatively influencing various aspects of health, such as sleep quality, cardiovascular and immune function, and psychological well-being.

Pain is not only a widespread experience but also a multifaceted one, affected by biological, psychological, and social factors.

As such, proper pain management necessitates more than just biological interventions, like analgesic medications.

Numerous approaches concentrate on the biopsychosocial factors impacting pain, encompassing psychosocial, complementary, and integrative methods.

Previous research has corroborated the effectiveness of hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, and prayer in self-managing chronic pain in adults.

Yet the influence of these practices on acute pain has been less studied, and no prior research has compared the immediate effects of these three methods on acute pain experiences.

Comparing three techniques

Supported by the BIAL Foundation, Alexandra Ferreira-Valente led a research team that employed heart rate variability and other metrics to compare the immediate impacts of hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, and Christian prayer on pain intensity, pain tolerance, and stress.

The research took place at the Psychology Laboratory of the William James Center for Research at Ispa – Instituto Universitário in Lisbon and included 232 healthy adult volunteers.

Participants’ pain was induced using a cold compress (Cold Pressor Arm Wrap – CPAW) applied to their forearm and hand for up to 5 minutes.

Researchers then assessed pain tolerance, pain intensity, and heart rate variability as a physiological marker of stress.

After a rest period, participants listened to a 20-minute recording of either guided hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, Christian prayer, or a natural history book reading (control condition).

Hypnosis is the strongest for pain management, followed by mindfulness meditation

Following this, participants experienced a second CPAW session while listening to up to 5 minutes of their designated recording, and their cardiac function was monitored.

The study’s results suggest that a single brief session of hypnosis and mindfulness meditation, but not Ignatian Christian prayer based on biblical meditation, may be beneficial for acute pain self-management, with hypnosis being slightly more effective.

According to team coordinator Alexandra Ferreira-Valente, future research should compare the effects of different types of prayer and investigate the predictors and moderators of the impacts of hypnosis and mindfulness on acute pain experiences.

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