My colleagues and I just published a new paper in the Journal of General Internal Medicine demonstrating that mindfulness training and hypnotic suggestion significantly reduced acute pain experienced by hospital inpatients. After participating in a single, 15-minute session of one of these mind-body therapies, patients reported an immediate decrease in pain levels similar to what one might expect from an opioid painkiller.
This study is the first to compare the effects of mindfulness and hypnosis on acute pain in the hospital setting.
The yearlong study’s 244 participants were patients at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City who reported experiencing unmanageable pain as the result of illness, disease, or surgical procedures. Willing patients were randomly assigned to receive a brief, scripted session in one of three interventions: mindfulness, hypnotic suggestion or pain coping education. Hospital social workers who completed basic training in each scripted method provided the interventions to patients.
While all three types of intervention reduced patients’ anxiety and increased their feelings of relaxation, patients who participated in the hypnotic suggestion intervention experienced a 29% reduction in pain, and patients who participated in the mindfulness intervention experienced a 23% reduction in pain, compared to a 9% reduction experienced by those who participated in the pain coping intervention. Patients receiving the two mind-body therapies also reported a significant decrease in their perceived need for opioid medication.
About a third of the study participants receiving one of the two mind-body therapies achieved close to a 30% reduction in pain intensity. This clinically significant level of pain relief is roughly equivalent to the pain relief produced by five milligrams of oxycodone.
My previous research has indicated that an 8-week long course of Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement can be an effective way to reduce chronic pain symptoms and decrease prescription opioid misuse. This new study added a new dimension to my work by revealing the promise of brief mind-body therapies for acute pain patients.
It was really exciting and quite amazing to see such dramatic results from a single mind-body session. Given our nation’s current opioid epidemic, the implications of this study are potentially huge. These brief mind-body therapies could be cost-effectively and feasibly integrated into standard medical care as useful adjuncts to pain management.
My interdisciplinary team at Center for Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development plan to continue to investigate mind-body therapies as non-opioid means of alleviating pain by conducting a national replication study in a sample of thousands of patients in multiple hospitals around the country.
Because of its public health relevance, so far the study has been covered by more than 40 television stations around the country. Here is a brief clip about the study.