Brief relaxation training is not sufficient to alter tolerance to experimental pain in novicesReport as inadecuate

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Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation, are aspects common to most forms of mindfulness training. There is now an abundance of research demonstrating that mindfulness training has beneficial effects across a wide range of clinical conditions, making it an important tool for clinical intervention. One area of extensive research is on the beneficial effects of mindfulness on experiences of pain. However, the mechanisms of these effects are still not well understood. One hypothesis is that the relaxation components of mindfulness training, through alterations in breathing and muscle tension, leads to changes in parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system functioning which influences pain circuits. The current study seeks to examine how two of the relaxation subcomponents of mindfulness training, deep breathing and muscle relaxation, influence experiences of pain in healthy individuals. Participants were randomized to either a 10 minute deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or control condition after which they were exposed to a cold pain task. Throughout the experiment, measures of parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system activity were collected to assess how deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation alter physiological responses, and if these changes moderate any effects of these interventions on responses to pain. There were no differences in participants’ pain tolerances or self-reported pain ratings during the cold pain task or in participants’ physiological responses to the task. Additionally, individual differences in physiological functioning were not related to differences in pain tolerance or pain ratings. Overall this study suggests that the mechanisms through which mindfulness exerts its effects on pain are more complex than merely through physiological changes brought about by altering breathing or muscle tension. This indicates a need for more research examining the specific subcomponents of mindfulness, and how these subcomponents might be acting, to better understand their utility as a clinical treatment.

Author: Karen E. Smith , Greg J. Norman



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