Alternative approaches such as mindful breathing and meditation proved effective in the management of chronic pain and stress, and also in some cases, reduced the need for medication as opioids, according to a new study presented at the American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals (ACR/ARHP) annual meeting on October 24 in Chicago.
Maggie Wimmer, coordinator of Programs and Outcomes, Public and Patient Education at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), and colleagues implemented a Pain and Stress Management (PSM) program to improve knowledge and implementation of complementary practices as alternatives to medications for management and treatment of chronic pain.
“Opioid misuse and addiction are a major public health issue in the United States, and approximately 70 percent of individuals who use opioids on a long-term basis have a musculoskeletal disorder, such as low back pain or arthritis,” said Maggie Wimmer, coordinator of Programs and Outcomes, Public and Patient Education at HSS. “To address this epidemic, Hospital for Special Surgery implemented a Pain and Stress Management program in its orthopedic clinic to enhance patient knowledge and encourage complementary practices as alternatives to medication.”
HSS launched the pilot program in March 2017 for patients at the hospital’s Ambulatory Care Center, which serves a low income, diverse community living with chronic musculoskeletal conditions. Reaching 122 participants, the program included a monthly workshop led by a meditation instructor and a social worker, as well as a weekly meditation conference call. Participants engaged in mindful breathing techniques and meditation to manage chronic pain and stress.
To evaluate the program, researchers surveyed participants after each monthly meeting. Data was collected to assess program effectiveness, participants’ knowledge of complementary practices, how often they used the techniques, and how the practices helped them cope with pain and stress.
- The program was highly rated by 98% of participants.
- Most participants showed an increase in knowledge of complementary alternative treatments (95%) and the ability to apply the techniques learned to manage their pain and stress (95%).
- 93 percent indicated that they would recommend the program to others.
- One out of three participants reported using the mindful breathing techniques 5 or more times a week in place of medication.
- Debrief sessions revealed that after using the techniques, participants experienced improved daily function, calmness, improved self-efficacy and state of mind, reduced pain and stress, and were less reliant on pain medication to manage their condition.
Comments from participants recorded by the social worker include:
- “It’s not just pills that help with pain; you can do it with your mind.”
- “The stillness gives the body time to rebalance itself.”
- “It was very calming, and it helped.”
- “I learned how to breathe; it relieved my pain.”
“The results indicate that alternative approaches are effective in reducing pain and stress, and in improving self-management and general well-being,” said Robyn Wiesel, associate director, Public and Patient Education at HSS. “Based on the success of the Pain and Stress Management program in the orthopedic clinic, it has been expanded to include patients in the HSS Rheumatology Clinic, many of whom rely on opioid medication to manage chronic pain.”