Think Positive to Reduce Pain: Study

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A five-minute session of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps reduce pain by at least 60 per cent, said scientists at the University of Reading. Studies reveal that positive thinking can relieve an individual of pain by changing the way it is "experienced."

Researchers at the University of Reading conducted a study in which thermal probes were used on the arms of 34 volunteers to apply heat. The pain generated was that of a burn. When the volunteers were asked to rate the pain's severity, those who had undergone cognitive behavioural therapy or 'pain-training' therapy gave scores 58 per cent lower in comparison to the control group who did undergo the session. The study has paved way for CBT to be used to treat people suffering from chronic back problems or fibromyalgia, causing immense widespread pain.

The "mind over body" study included 34 men and women in the age group of 21 and 38. In the session, which lasted nearly an hour, a thermal probe was used to apply heat to their forearms and evoke pain. This stimulation led to secondary hyperalgesia, also known as enhanced pain sensitivity, common in burns.

Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Tim Salomons, lead researcher from the University of Reading, said, "Of the 34 participants given secondary hyperalgesia, half were trained to control negative thoughts related to the pain, the other half was given training unrelated to the pain stimuli. We then examined the groups' secondary hyperalgesia. The results were striking. The 'pain-trained' group achieved a 38 per cent reduction in secondary hyperalgesia, while the control group reported an increase of 8 per cent." Salomons further added, "We know that pain feels more debilitating when it signals illness or injury compared to when we are undertaking an activity we feel is beneficial - we go through the pain barrier."

In 2005, a study was conducted to show that low expectations about impending pain can help lower a person's perception of it. "We found that expectations have a surprisingly big effect on pain. Positive expectations produced about a 28 percent decrease in pain ratings, equal to a shot of morphine," said Tetsuo Koyama, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. Stating that positive thinking can reduce perception as well as processing of pain in the brain, researcher Robert Coghill, PhD, a neuroscientist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said, "Expectations of decreased pain powerfully reduced both the subjective experience of pain and activation of pain-related brain regions."

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