Research conducted at the University of Utah Hospital concluded that mind-body therapies can be as effective in alleviating acute pain as prescription painkillers.
Over the course of a year, 244 hospital patients who reported unmanageable pain resulting from an illness, disease or surgical procedure were randomly assigned to participate in a brief session in one of three methods: mindfulness, hypnotic suggestion or pain-coping education. These sessions were conducted by hospital social workers who were trained in each method.
After participating in only one 15-minute session, patients reported an immediate decrease in pain levels similar to what is expected from an opioid painkiller. The most dramatic reduction in pain – 29 percent – was seen in the patients who participated in hypnotic suggestion. Mindfulness sessions resulted in a 23 percent pain reduction, while pain-coping education lagged far behind, at 9 percent. All three methods reduced patients’ anxiety and increased their feelings of relaxation.
Jill Jaynes, owner and founder of Absolute Integrated Medicine in Vero Beach, is a doctor of Oriental medicine and holds a master’s degree in acupuncture. She is familiar with the study and is not at all surprised at the results. “The types of therapies discussed in the Utah study can elicit profound change,” she says. “They work within the laws of nature to put the body back into balance, alleviating pain.”
This study, which was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, is the first to compare the effects of mindfulness and hypnosis on acute pain in a hospital setting.
Eric Garland, lead author of the study and director of the University of Utah’s Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development, says, “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.”
Hypnotic suggestion, also called hypnotherapy, works by helping people become more aware of sensations in their body, including the perception of pain. This awareness may help them to learn to regulate the nervous system function that causes those sensations. Jaynes says “hypnotherapy and other mind-body therapies are curative, as they give patients the tools to deal with their pain.”
Mindfulness, which has its origins in Buddhist and Vedantic practices, is intended to help people develop the skill of paying attention to their inner and outer experiences. While it may sound counterintuitive, actually paying attention to our pain with objectivity and curiosity, rather than resisting it and focusing on how badly we want it to stop, reduces its impact. The recent study out of Utah clearly showed this to be the case for acute pain; past studies have shown it also to be effective in the reduction of chronic pain.
“Thought suppression” can also be controlled by mindfulness; it’s a phenomenon best illustrated by the white elephant effect – try not thinking of a white elephant and you will likely immediately picture one in your mind. One of the main principles of mindfulness is that attempting to consciously suppress our thoughts of pain only makes those thoughts more frequent and harder to control, which worsens the pain.
When the thoughts are allowed and examined calmly they then tend to lose their frightening intensity and dissipate.
At Absolute Integrated Medicine, Jaynes and her team use acupuncture, which has a history extending back at least 2,000 years, to achieve a state of hypnotic suggestion and activate the body’s own internal healing resources. She sees it as the wave of the future for pain relief. “What we are doing now [in traditional western medicine] is not working,” she says, referring to the opioid epidemic and other failures in pharmaceutical methods of combating pain. “Many people and healthcare professionals are now more open and receptive to the benefits of Oriental medicine.”
Garland and his research team plan to continue studying mind-body therapies as non-opioid means of alleviating pain by conducting a national study with thousands of patients in dozens of hospitals.
Absolute Integrated Medicine, a private and community acupuncture clinic, is located in the Bridgewater Building, Suites C-130 and C-136 at 1575 Indian River Boulevard in Vero Beach. The phone number is 772-770-6184, and more information on the treatments they offer can be found on their website at verobeachacupuncture.com.