Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia, investigated the efficacy of mindfulness training in comparison with relaxation training on acute pain - threshold and tolerance - during a cold pressor task.

Undergraduate psychology students (n = 140) were randomly assigned to receive reassuring or threatening information about the cold pressor.  Participants were then re-randomized to receive mindfulness or the control intervention- relaxation  training.

Analyses confirmed that the threat manipulation was effective in increasing worry, fear of harm and expectations of pain, and reducing coping efficacy.

Interaction effects revealed that mindfulness was effective in increasing curiosity and reducing de-centering under conditions of high threat, but not for low threat. Other interactions on cognitive variables (attentional bias to pain and self-focus) confirmed that mindfulness and relaxation appeared to exert influences under different conditions (i.e. mindfulness for high threat; and relaxation for low threat).

Despite these cognitive effects being discerned under different conditions, there were no differences between mindfulness and relaxation on pain, tolerance or threshold in either threat group.

Investigators conclude that the results show that a single, brief session of mindfulness, based on body scanning, is not sufficient to change the way in which individuals approach an experimental pain task, in comparison with relaxation.

Citation:  Sharpe L, Nicholson Perry K, Rogers P, Refshauge K, Nicholas MK. A comparison of the effect of mindfulness and relaxation on responses to acute experimental pain. European Journal of Pain. 2013 May; 17(5):742-52. doi: 10.1002/j.1532-2149.2012.00241.x. [email protected]