Mindfulness: does it improve patients' pain outcomes?
Chronic pain is one of the most common and debilitating medical conditions worldwide, and patients with chronic pain are known to use primary healthcare services up to 5 times more than other patient populations.
A multi-modal approach for pain management, including psychological interventions, is helpful in managing chronic pain. However, does the implementation of mindfulness specifically have an impact on pain levels?
Mindfulness is described by Zeidan et al. (2011) as “present-moment awareness and attention to internal and external experiences”. Zeidan also notes the impacts of mindfulness can be “decreased subjective experience of pain, and better outcomes in stressed populations”. Therefore, mindfulness is often being incorporated as part of a multi-modal pain management program.
This meta-analysis examined the impact of mindfulness-based therapy in groups across the world: 8 in the US, 1 in Germany, and 1 in Hong Kong. The amount of mindfulness practiced was not quantified, but the authors rather determined whether mindfulness practice was present in any capacity as part of a treatment program.
The studies were investigating at least 1 of the following 4 categories:
- Physical health outcomes;
- Mental health outcomes;
- Humanistic outcomes;
- Physical function.
For the humanistic ratings, the following were considered: quality of life outcomes, perceived physical function, and personal treatment goals. The studies included were analysed using the Yates Quality Rating Scale as well, to establish the quality of the psychological intervention for pain.
Of the categories measured, the humanistic outcomes were the ones that were statistically significant with mindfulness groups vs. control groups. Thus, this means that quality of life and subjective perceived function scales showed improvements with mindfulness interventions, but other objective measures were not impacted as much.
One of the main limitations of this study was the small number of studies sampled, as well as the small number of subjects in each study. Additionally, no clinically significant outcomes were observed in the objective measurements of the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions.
Nevertheless, subjective quality of life outcomes did improve with mindfulness. As a result, there still could be some benefit in incorporating mindfulness into pain management services for the patient. Much of present day literature focuses on teaching patients with chronic pain different coping strategies, and since mindfulness is a drug-free and cost-effective strategy that can be used in any patient population, it may indeed be a worthwhile strategy.
Want to read deeper into how mindfulness can influence chronic pain? Read this interesting article on Mindful.org!
> From: Bawa et al., Br J Gen Pract (2015) e387-400. All rights reserved to the British Journal of General Practice. Click here for the online summary.