(646) 355-8777

Herman & Wallace Blog

Mindfulness and the Descending Modulation of Pain

The following comes to us from Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA, our resident expert in the power of mindfulness and it's applications to rehabilitation. Carolyn was recently featured in a video from the Journal of the American Medical Association for her contributions to a newly published research article. Join Carolyn at her course, Mindfulness Based Pain Treatment: A Biopsychosocial Approach to the Treatment of Chronic Pain on May 14th and 15th in California's Bay Area!

Neuroimaging studies show that cortical and sub-cortical brain regions associated with cognitive and emotional processing connect directly with descending pain modulating circuits arising in the brainstem. As diminished nociceptive inhibition by descending pain modulation is a likely contributing factor to the persistence of pain, these cortical and sub-cortical connections to relevant brainstem regions provide a means by which maladaptive cognitive and emotional processing can contribute to the persistence of pain1. It is possible that strategies to help patients self-regulate cognitions and emotions could promote pain reduction through restoring the balance between excitatory and inhibitory mechanisms of the descending pain modulatory system.

To be mindful is to rest the mind in the present moment with stability and acceptance and without additional cognitive or emotional elaboration. Mindful body awareness is a central component. Training in mindful awareness has been shown to improve attention regulation, emotional processing and body awareness and contribute to reduced pain intensity, catastrophizing, depression and anxiety2,3,4,5. Training in mindfulness has also been shown to modulate brain activity in areas associated with body awareness and pain processing6,7. It is possible that the adaptive modulation of cortical and sub-cortical areas engaged with mindful cognitive, emotional and physical self-regulation could contribute to reducing pain through improving the balance between excitatory and inhibitory mechanisms of the descending pain modulatory system.

One of my patients reflected the clinical benefits of mindfulness training when he said, “I needed to learn how to not freak out when my exercises or daily activities increased my pain. Focusing my mind on the present moment was enormously helpful. I would tell myself, “Breathe. Just be here. Calm down.” By breathing and relaxing I could take control of how I was reacting and I immediately saw a difference. My pain did not increase out of control.”

I am thrilled to be sharing my 30+ year experience in mindfulness and patient care in my upcoming course through Herman and Wallace.

1. Ossipov M, Morimura K, Porreca F. Descending pain modulation and chronification of pain. Curr Opin Support Palliat Care 2014;8(2):143-151.
2. Holzel BK, Lazar SW, Guard T, et al. How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspect Psychol Science. 2011;6: 537–559.
3. Reiner K, Tibi L, Lipsitz JD. Do mindfulness-based interventions reduce pain intensity? A critical review of the literature. Pain Med. 2013 Feb;14(2):230-42.
4. Lakhan SE, Schofield KL. Mindfulness-based therapies in the treatment of somatization disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2013 Aug 26;8(8):e71834.
5. Schutze , Slater H, O’Sullivan P, et al. Mindfulness-based functional therapy: A preliminary open trial of an integrated model of care for people with persistent low back pain. Front Psychol. 2014 Aug 4;5:839.
6. Zeidan F, Martucci KT, Kraft RA, et al. Brain mechanisms supporting modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation. J Neurosci. 2011 Apr 6;31(14):5540-8.
7. Nakata H, Sakamoto K, Kakigi R. Meditation reduces pain-related activity in the anterior cingulated cortex, insula, secondary somatosensory cortex and thalamus. Front psychol. 2014;5:1489.

The Dilemma of the Multifidus
Treat Men As Equals

Upcoming Continuing Education Courses

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Chicago, IL (Rescheduled)

Apr 3, 2020 - Apr 5, 2020
Location: Cancer Treatment Centers of America - Chicago, IL

Male Pelvic Floor - St. Paul, MN (Rescheduled)

Apr 3, 2020 - Apr 5, 2020
Location: Regions Hospital

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Boston, MA (Rescheduled)

Apr 3, 2020 - Apr 5, 2020
Location: Marathon Physical Therapy

Chronic Pelvic Pain - Kansas City, MO (Rescheduled)

Apr 3, 2020 - Apr 5, 2020
Location: Saint Luke\'s Health System

Pudendal Neuralgia and Nerve Entrapment - Philadelphia, PA (Rescheduled)

Apr 4, 2020 - Apr 5, 2020
Location: Core 3 Physical Therapy

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Freehold, NJ (Rescheduled)

Apr 4, 2020 - Apr 6, 2020
Location: CentraState Medical Center

Sexual Interviewing for Pelvic Health Therapists - Seattle, WA (Rescheduled)

Apr 4, 2020 - Apr 5, 2020
Location: Evergreen Hospital Medical Center

Pelvic Floor Level 2A - Grand Rapids, MI (Rescheduled)

Apr 17, 2020 - Apr 19, 2020
Location: Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital

Pelvic Floor Level 1- Kansas City, MO (Rescheduled)

Apr 17, 2020 - Apr 19, 2020
Location: Centerpoint Medical Center

Oncology of the Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Grand Junction, CO (Rescheduled)

Apr 17, 2020 - Apr 19, 2020
Location: Urological Associates of Western Colorado

Mobilization of Visceral Fascia: The Gastrointestinal System - Arlington, VA (Rescheduled)

Apr 17, 2020 - Apr 19, 2020
Location: Virginia Hospital Center

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - East Greenwich, RI (Rescheduled)

Apr 17, 2020 - Apr 19, 2020
Location: New England Institute of Technology

Pilates for the Pelvic Floor - Livingston, NJ (Rescheduled)

Apr 18, 2020 - Apr 19, 2020
Location: Ambulatory Care Center- RWJ Barnabas Health

Pelvic Floor Level 1- Canton, OH (Rescheduled)

Apr 24, 2020 - Apr 26, 2020
Location: Aultman Hospital

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Rochester, NY (Rescheduled)

Apr 24, 2020 - Apr 26, 2020
Location: Unity Health System

Pediatric Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders - Ann Arbor, MI (Rescheduled)

Apr 24, 2020 - Apr 26, 2020
Location: Michigan Medicine

Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment - Madison, WI (Rescheduled)

Apr 24, 2020 - Apr 26, 2020
Location: University of Wisconsin Hospital

Pelvic Floor Level 2A - Winfield, IL (Rescheduled)

Apr 24, 2020 - Apr 26, 2020
Location: Northwestern Medicine

Low Pressure Fitness for Pelvic Floor Care - Trenton, NJ (Rescheduled)

Apr 24, 2020 - Apr 26, 2020
Location: Robert Wood Johnson Medical Associates

Athletes & Pelvic Rehabilitation - Minneapolis, MN

Apr 25, 2020 - Apr 26, 2020
Location: Viverant

Sacral Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment - Fairlawn, NJ

May 1, 2020 - May 3, 2020
Location: Bella Physical Therapy

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Fayetteville, AR

May 1, 2020 - May 3, 2020
Location: Washington Regional Medical Center

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Boise, ID

May 1, 2020 - May 3, 2020
Location: St Luke's Rehab Hospital

Pediatric Incontinence - Duluth, MN

May 1, 2020 - May 3, 2020
Location: Polinsky Medical Rehabilitation Center

Pregnancy Rehabilitation - Corvallis, OR

May 2, 2020 - May 3, 2020
Location: Albany Sport & Spine Physical Therapy

Coccydynia and Painful Sitting - Boston, MA

May 2, 2020 - May 3, 2020
Location: Marathon Physical Therapy

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Bay Shore, NY (SOLD OUT)

May 11, 2020 - May 13, 2020
Location: Touro College: Bayshore

Pelvic Floor Level 2A - Crown Point, IN

May 15, 2020 - May 17, 2020
Location: Franciscan Health System