Pain modulation by meditation and electroacupuncture in experimental submaximum effort tourniquet technique (SETT)

Explore (NY). 2011 Jul-Aug;7(4):239-45. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2011.04.004.


Context: Although acupuncture and meditation are widely utilized in the clinical treatment of pain, trials to evaluate their efficacy and modes of action under experimental conditions have yielded equivocal results.

Objective: This feasibility study investigated whether electroacupuncture (EA) and meditation effectively relieve pain within a well-established ischemic pain paradigm (submaximum effort tourniquet technique, SETT).

Design: In this semirandomized trial, experienced meditators were compared with nonmeditators. The nonmeditating subjects were randomly assigned to either an EA group or a nontreatment group.

Setting: The trial was conducted at the Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany.

Participants: Eight Vipassana meditators (mean experience hours = 2,626.8 ± 1,602.3 hours SD) and 40 control subjects were enrolled.

Interventions: SETT (250 mm Hg, time limit = 30 minutes, pain rating limit = 10) was applied twice (baseline vs treatment) on the nondominant arm; EA was applied to the contralateral acupoints LI4 and LI10 (stimulation 20 minutes prior to and throughout the SETT); meditators were asked to meditate throughout the whole experimental procedure.

Main outcome measure: Pain ratings were obtained every three minutes on a numerical rating scale (0-10). The ratio of the tolerated time to the ratings served as the pain tolerance index.

Results: At baseline, meditators exhibited significantly greater pain tolerance than the other two groups. During the second or treatment session, pain sensitivity did not change significantly in the nontreatment group, whereas pain tolerance significantly increased and pain ratings decreased to the level of meditation-induced analgesia in the EA group. Electroacupuncture induced no additional pain control benefit for meditators.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arm
  • Electroacupuncture*
  • Humans
  • Ischemia / complications*
  • Male
  • Meditation*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Tourniquets*
  • Young Adult