Researchers in the US have found that an hour of meditation can reduce pain by nearly half and also have a long-lasting effect.
Researchers at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina believe the technique works by calming down the areas of the brain that experience pain while boosting coping areas, the UK's Daily Telegraph reported.
"This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation," lead researcher Dr Fadel Zeidan said.
In the study, 15 healthy volunteers who had never before meditated learnt a technique called "focused meditation", which is a form of mindfulness training where you focus on the breath.
Both before and after the meditation training, brain activity of the volunteers was examined using a special type of imaging called arterial spin labelling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI).
During these scans, a pain-inducing device, which is heated up to 48°C, was placed on the participants' right leg for five minutes.
The scans taken after meditation training showed that the pain caused by the devices was reduced for every participant, with decreases between 11 and 93 percent.
Meditation significantly reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, an area that senses the intensity of pain. Meditation also increased brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbitofrontal cortex, the areas where the brain stores its experience of pain and develops coping mechanisms.
"We found a big effect about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness," Dr Zeidan said.
"Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent."
Dr Zeidan and his colleagues believe that meditation has great potential for clinical use without the need for drugs.
"This study shows that meditation produces real effects in the brain and can provide an effective way for people to substantially reduce their pain without medications," Dr Zeidan said.
Learn more about meditation.