Pain is a multidimensional experience that combines sensory, affective, and cognitive factors, causing its treatment to be extremely complicated and expensive. However, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be a cost-effective approach to decreasing experimental and clinical pain. We have repeatedly shown that four days of mindfulness meditation training can significantly reduce experimentally induced pain ratings. Our preliminary findings demonstrate that the pain-relieving effects of mindfulness meditation are mediated through multiple and unique neural mechanisms. However, the specific physiological mechanisms by which mindfulness meditation reduces pain remain poorly characterized. Interestingly, mindfulness meditation has been demonstrated to directly increase high frequency heart rate variability (HF HRV), a marker of parasympathetic activity. Additionally, preliminary evidence demonstrates a relationship between parasympathetic dysregulation and the severity of clinical and experimental pain. However, it remains unknown if the pain-relieving effects of mindfulness meditation are associated with changes in the parasympathetic nervous system. This proposal will test the hypothesis that the analgesic effects of mindfulness meditation are associated with increases in parasympathetic activity, as measured by HF HRV. Knowledge gained from this proposal could provide mechanistic insight critical for evaluating mindfulness-meditation as a clinical treatment for pain.

Adrienne Adler

Wake Forest School of Medicine