It’s no secret that taking slow, deep breaths can be relaxing; according to a recent study, it may also help you feel less pain. The study conducted by researchers from Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Arizona and the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University found that controlled breathing at a slowed rate can significantly reduce feelings of pain. People who suffer from chronic pain, specifically fibromyalgia patients, also reported less pain while breathing slowly unless they were overwhelmed by sadness, depression or negative feelings.
The researchers studied two groups of women aged 45 to 65; one group was composed of women previously diagnosed with fibromyalgia. During the study, participants were subjected to moderately painful heat pulses on their palms, which were administered while they were breathing at normal rates and when participants reduced their breathing rates by 50 percent. After each heat pulse, participants were asked to report their feelings three ways: how strong the pain was (pain intensity), how uncomfortable it was (pain unpleasantness) and how their mood varied (affect).
After analyzing the participants’ ratings of pain intensity and unpleasantness, the researchers found an overall reduction in reported pain when the healthy control participants were breathing slowly. Interestingly, fibromyalgia patients only benefited from slow breathing if they reported positive affect.
Previous studies have shown the connection between pain and emotion is particularly evident in people with fibromylagia, who also have a tendancy to suffer from depression. This study showed that FM patients as a whole didn’t show a lessening of pain when breathing slowly but that FM patients who tend to have a positive affect as part of their personality did show some improvement. According to the researchers, this fits with the idea that FM patients generally have low positive affect, or energy reserves. They say that those who do have some can use it to reduce pain by breathing slowly, just like healthy individuals.