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Overcoming Pain and Use of Painkillers Possible with Mind over Matter

Nearly one-third of Americans suffer from chronic pain, and prescription opioid painkillers have become the leading approach to treating the debilitating condition. The problem of chronic pain often morphs into another more deadly issue: misuse of prescription opioids. One researcher seems to have developed a treatment that decreases both pain and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients. The intervention isn’t a medical treatment, rather, it involves training people to respond differently to pain, stress, and opioid-related cues.

Researcher Eric Garland, from the University of Utah, published his results Feb. 3, 2014 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Garland and colleagues tested the intervention, called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement, or MORE, in a study of 115 chronic pain patients. Patients either received eight weeks of MORE or conventional support group therapy. At the study’s start, almost three-quarters of those studied misused opioid painkillers (meaning they took more than prescribed or used them to self-treat stress or anxiety, rather than pain).

The researchers found the MORE group experienced a 63 percent reduction in opioid misuse, compared to a 32 percent reduction in the conventional support group. Those in the MORE group also reported a 22 percent reduction in pain-related impairment, which lasted for three months after the end of treatment.

MORE uses three approaches to therapy that target underlying processes involved in chronic pain and opioid misuse. These approaches are mindfulness training, reappraisal and savoring.
Mindfulness involves training the mind to increase awareness, gain control over one’s attention and regulate automatic habits.

Reappraisal reframes the meaning of a stressful or adverse event in such a way as to see it as purposeful or growth promoting.

Savoring is the process of learning to focus attention on positive events to increase one’s sensitivity to naturally rewarding experiences, such as enjoying a beautiful nature scene or experiencing a sense of connection with a loved one.

“Mental interventions can address physical problems, like pain, on both psychological and biological levels because the mind and body are interconnected,” Garland says. “Anything that happens in the brain happens in the body—so by changing brain functioning, you alter the functioning of the body.”

The MORE regimen for this study included a daily 15-minute mindfulness practice session guided by a CD and three minutes of mindful breathing prior to taking opioid medication. The practice is meant to increase awareness of opioid craving—helping participants clarify whether opioid use was driven by urges versus a legitimate need for pain relief.

Physical therapy is a nonsurgical approach for helping people with acute and chronic pain. It can be integrated with other types of therapy, including psychologically-based interventions to help patients regain strength, flexibility, balance, endurance, good posture and quality of life. For more about how physical therapists can help people in chronic or acute pain, contact A Physical Therapist, Inc.

A Physical Therapist, Inc., is a one-on-one physical therapy clinic in Delray Beach, Fla., and Harrisburg, Penn. For patients in Palm Beach County, A Physical Therapist, Inc., is easily accessible from Boca Raton or Boynton Beach. For patients in Dauphin County, A Physical Therapist, Inc., is easily accessible from Hershey and Marysville.

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