The effects of slow breathing on affective responses to pain stimuli: An experimental study

Alex J. Zautra, Robert Fasman, Mary Davis, Arthur D (Bud) Craig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations

Abstract

This study examined whether breathing rate affected self-reported pain and emotion following thermal pain stimuli in women with fibromyalgia syndrome (FM: n = 27) or age-matched healthy control women (HC: n = 25). FM and HC were exposed to low and moderate thermal pain pulses during paced breathing at their normal rate and one-half their normal rate. Thermal pain pulses were presented in four blocks of four trials. Each block included exposure to both mild and moderate pain trials, and periods of both normal and slow paced breathing. Pain intensity and unpleasantness were recorded immediately following each pain trial, and positive and negative affect were assessed at the end of each block of trials. Compared to normal breathing, slow breathing reduced ratings of pain intensity and unpleasantness, particularly for moderately versus mildly painful thermal stimuli. The effects of slow breathing on pain ratings were less reliable for FM patients than for HCs. Slow versus normal breathing decreased negative affect ratings following thermal pain pulses for both groups, and increased positive affect reports, but only for healthy controls with high trait negative affect. Participants who reported higher levels of trait positive affect prior to the experiment showed greater decreases in negative affect as a result of slow versus normal breathing. These experimental findings provide support for prior reports on the benefits of yogic breathing and mindful Zen meditation for pain and depressed affect. However, chronic pain patients may require more guidance to obtain therapeutic benefit from reduced breathing rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-18
Number of pages7
JournalPain
Volume149
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2010

Keywords

  • Affect
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Pain
  • Slow breathing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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