Slow Breathing Reduces Pain
Research performed by a scientist at Barrow Neurological Institute
at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center has shown that controlled
breathing at a slowed rate can significantly reduce feelings of
Chronic pain sufferers, specifically fibromyalgia (FM) patients,
also reported less pain while breathing slowly, unless they were
overwhelmed by negative feelings, sadness or depression.
The research was led by Arthur (Bud) Craig, PhD, at Barrow, and
was done in collaboration with investigators in the Department
of Psychology at Arizona State University. It was published recently
in PAIN, the refereed journal of the International Association
for the Study of Pain (IASP). The findings offer an explanation
for prior reports that mindful Zen meditation has beneficial effects
on pain and that yogic breathing exercises can reduce feelings
of depression. These results also underline the role that a person's
positive or negative attitude can have on their feelings of pain.
The study involved two groups of women aged 45 to 65. One group
was composed of women previously diagnosed with fibromyalgia,
and the other group was "healthy controls."
During the trial, participants were subjected to moderately painful
heat pulses on their palms. The heat pulses were administered
while they were breathing at normal rates and when participants
reduced their breathing rates by 50 percent. After each heat pulse,
participants were asked to report their feelings three ways: how
strong the pain was (pain intensity), how uncomfortable it was
(pain unpleasantness) and how their mood varied (affect).
The researchers analyzed the participants' ratings of pain intensity
and unpleasantness and found an overall reduction in reported
pain when the healthy control participants were paced to breathe
slowly. However, fibromyalgia patients benefited from slow breathing
only if they reported positive affect.
Other studies have shown that depression is a hallmark of fibromyalgia
and that the connection between pain and emotion is particularly
evident in people diagnosed with the fibromyalgia syndrome.
Results of the Barrow study showed that FM patients as a whole
did not show a lessening of pain when breathing slowly, but those
FM patients with strong positive affect as a trait (meaning it
is an aspect of their personality, not simply the situation) did
show some improvement. "This fits with the idea that FM patients
in general have low positive affect, or energy reserves. Those
who do have some positive energy left in their "mental battery"
can use it to reduce pain by breathing slowly, just like healthy
normals," says Dr. Craig.
January 26, 2010