Neurophysiological Mechanisms Supporting Mindfulness Meditation-Based Pain Relief: an Updated Review

Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2020 Aug 17;24(10):56. doi: 10.1007/s11916-020-00890-8.


Purpose of review: This review examines recent (2016 onwards) neuroscientific findings on the mechanisms supporting mindfulness-associated pain relief. To date, its clear that mindfulness lowers pain by engaging brain processes that are distinct from placebo and vary across meditative training level. Due to rapid developments in the field of contemplative neuroscience, an update review on the neuroimaging studies focused on mindfulness, and pain is merited.

Recent findings: Mindfulness-based therapies produce reliably reductions in a spectrum of chronic pain conditions through psychological, physiological, and neural mechanisms supporting the modulation of evaluation and appraisal of innocuous and noxious sensory events. Neuroimaging and randomized control studies confirm that mindfulness meditation reliably reduces experimentally induced and clinical pain by engaging multiple, unique, non-opioidergic mechanisms that are distinct from placebo and which vary across meditative training level. These promising findings underscore the potential of mindfulness-based approaches to produce long-lasting improvements in pain-related symptomology.

Keywords: Analgesia; Meditation; Mindfulness; Pain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Meditation / psychology*
  • Mindfulness* / methods
  • Pain Management* / methods
  • Pain Measurement