Easing Pain

Posted on October 25, 2016

Photo: flickr

Research has found that most people depend on medication for pain relief. But medication doesn't work for everyone, and the number of people addicted to or overdosing on painkillers has been rising. Surgery, another treatment option for some types of pain, is expensive, often ineffective and can require a long recovery. Meanwhile, research suggests that chronic pain is a complex condition that involves emotions, including stress and anxiety, perceptions and social influences.

In light of these insights, scientists are putting more effort into studying complementary therapies, including hypnosis, meditation and yoga, that may ease pain with fewer side effects and help people manage their own symptoms. Care should be tailored to each person's needs and a pain treatment plan should involve psychologists, primary-care clinicians and physiotherapists exploring these ways to enhance traditional approaches to pain management, experts say.

"None of these therapies is a cure in itself - it's a factor of matching people to the best treatment," says psychologist Mark Jensen, PhD, of the University of Washington department of rehabilitation medicine. "Our findings indicate that there are a number of psychological treatments that can benefit subgroups of people tremendously. In fact, given their overall efficacy and lack of negative side effects, these should probably be considered first-line treatments for many chronic pain conditions."

Several studies have proven that different hypnotic suggestions can reach all of the brain areas involved in pain processing, an ability that is a boon for treating such a complex problem, according to Jensen and his colleague David Patterson, PhD, at the University of Washington, in a 2014 review in American Psychologist. Brain scans show that suggestions to decrease pain intensity draw a response in some regions, while suggestions that increase acceptance of pain - perhaps by encouraging patients to examine it from a distance or realize that it is temporary - will register in others. In addition to pain relief, many study participants report that after hypnosis they experienced such benefits as better sleep, increased relaxation and more energy. Self-hypnosis - and suggestions that it will lead to comfort on demand - help patients practice therapy on their own time.

Research also suggests that yoga can be an effective pain treatment. Yoga has a number of components that may be helpful, including focused, meditative movement, which can have positive effects on the brain, including changing pain perception, says Catherine Bushnell, PhD, an experimental psychologist and senior investigator at the NCCIH, which devotes about 30 percent of its research budget to studying pain. In fact, as Bushnell wrote in the journal Pain (2015), yoga and meditation can have opposite structural and functional effects on the brain than chronic pain, which is sometimes associated with accelerated gray matter loss and disrupted white matter integrity. Yoga also involves physical exercise, which research shows may itself improve pain symptoms, she says.

Researchers are also exploring mindfulness interventions for pain management. The therapy most often used and studied is MBSR, an eight-week group course that includes education on stress psychology and physiology, yoga and meditation, and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, which weaves cognitive therapy, including teaching people to examine links between cognition and behavior, into MBSR. An article by Melissa Day, PhD, of the University of Queensland in Australia, and colleagues in The Journal of Pain (2014) concludes that mindfulness-based interventions have similar effect sizes for reducing pain intensity as other psychosocial interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Research suggests that simply understanding how and why we feel physical pain can also help ease symptoms. One reason may be because pain education may reduce catastrophizing, which means having very negative beliefs about pain and its consequences and prognosis. Catastrophizing worsens outcomes, according to a number of studies that Judith Turner, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Washington, conducted with colleagues.

To read the full article, click on the link below.

Category(s):Chronic Pain, Hypnosis, Mindfulness, Mindfulness Meditation, Pain management

Source material from American Psychological Association

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