Hypnosis and Mindfulness Reduce Acute Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

Hypnosis and mindfulness training can significantly reduce acute pain in hospital patients, according to a small study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers at the University of Utah enrolled 244 hospital patients in the study who reported “intolerable pain” or “inadequate pain control” as a result of illness, disease or surgical procedures. Participants were randomly assigned to a single 15-minute session in one of three mind-body therapies: mindfulness, hypnotic suggestion or pain coping education.

All three types of intervention reduced the patients’ pain and anxiety, while increasing their feelings of relaxation.

Those who received hypnosis experienced an immediate 29 percent reduction in pain, while those who received mindfulness training had a 23 percent reduction and those who learned pain coping techniques experienced a 9 percent reduction.

Patients who received hypnosis or mindfulness training also had a significant decrease in their desire for opioid medication.

“About a third of the study participants receiving one of the two mind-body therapies achieved close to a 30 percent reduction in pain intensity,” said Eric Garland, lead author of the study and associate dean for research at the University of Utah’s College of Social Work. “This clinically significant level of pain relief is roughly equivalent to the pain relief produced by 5 milligrams of oxycodone.”

Garland’s previous research has found that multi-week mindfulness training programs can be an effective way to reduce chronic pain and decrease prescription opioid misuse. The new study added a new dimension to that work by showing that brief mind-body therapies can give immediate relief to people suffering from acute pain.

“It was really exciting and quite amazing to see such dramatic results from a single mind-body session,” said Garland. “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.”

Garland and his research team are planning a larger, national study of mind-body therapies that involve thousands of patients in hospitals around the country. Garland was recently named as director of the university’s new Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development. The center will assume oversight of more than $17 million in federal research grants.

Many chronic pain patients are skeptical of mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy (CT) and other mind-body therapies, but there is evidence they work for some.

A recent study found that CBT lessened pain and improved function better than standard treatments for low back pain. Another study at Wake Forest University found that mindfulness meditation appears to activate parts of the brain associated with pain control.

You can experience a free 20-minute online meditation program designed to reduce pain and anxiety by visiting Meditainment.com.