Brain imaging reveals how mindfulness program boosts pain regulation

Research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds has isolated the changes in pain-related brain activity that follow mindfulness training — pointing a way toward more targeted and precise pain treatment.

The study, published today (July 27) in The American Journal of Psychiatry, identified pathways in the brain specific to pain regulation on which activity is altered by the center’s eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course.

These changes were not seen in participants who took a similar course without the mindfulness instruction — important new evidence that the brain changes are due to the mindfulness training itself, according to Joseph Wielgosz, who led the work while he was a graduate student at UW–Madison and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University. The study is the first to demonstrate pain-related brain changes from a standardized mindfulness course that is widely offered in clinical settings.

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