Researchers studied 27 women with fibromyalgia and 25 women without the condition. In both groups of women, slower, deeper breathing reduced pain.
Sometimes scientists seem a little bit sadistic! In this study, they induced either "mild" or "moderate" pain using pulses of heat applied to the palm. They then measured how the women responded to the pain (1) when they were breathing normally and (2) when they were breathing 50% slower than normal by taking slow, deep breaths. For both groups, the slower breathing reduced "ratings of pain intensity and unpleasantness" (more so for moderate than mild pain), and also negative feelings about being exposed to pain.
How does slow breathing work to ease pain? As you actively slow your breathing, your attention is shifted away from the pain. Slower, deeper breathing also calms the stress-based "fight or flight" reaction of your sympathetic nervous system — a reaction that puts you into adrenaline overdrive, where muscles tighten and pain increases.
The bottom line is that when you feel stressed or in pain, you should use the time-honored, time-tested technique of slow, deep breathing to shift out of adrenaline overdrive and allow your muscles to release tension and your body to heal.
"The effects of slow breathing on affective responses to pain stimuli: an experimental study." Zautra AJ, Fasman R, Davis MC, Craig AD. Pain. 2010 Apr;149(1):12-8. Epub 2010 Jan 15. (Abstract at PubMed)
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of four research studies on their treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.