More than 1.5 billion people suffer from chronic pain, according to a recent report. An Internet program may be the saving grace for those trying to manage their chronic pain. Researchers at Washington State discovered that the program, which teaches non-medical solutions for pain, can not only help manage pain but also may reduce dependence on medicine. It results in more positive thinking and emotional wellness.
An assistant professor for the College of Nursing, Marian Wilson, did a study by tracking 43 people who had chronic pain. With an eight-week online course, they were taught about the psychological, social and health issues that surround their chronic pain. When that group was compared to the control group, Wilson found that the group who did the course reported adopting the practices they were taught in order to change their pattern of negative thinking.
“With negative emotions, you often have that physical response of tension,” said Wilson. “So we really want people with pain to learn they have control and mastery over some of those physical symptoms. Meditation and relaxation can help with that.”
She added that the confidence the course taught — also called “self-efficacy” — is difficult for patients to obtain in a traditional care program. However, the benefits of a program like this are immense, as they give patients the tools necessary to naturally manage their chronic pain, leading to a higher quality of life, the ability to work again, and increased activity levels.
“Maybe that pain is never going to go away but you can divert your attention from it,” said Wilson. “You can focus on more positive things and you can absolutely get that thought on a back burner rather than fixating on it.”
Only half of the control group attempted progress on goals to eliminate or reduce pain, while four out of five of the online course participants did.
“Unique to our study was the discovery that more appropriate use of opioid medicines could be an unintended consequence of participation,” Wilson and her colleagues write in the journal Pain Management Nursing.
In the U.S. alone, legitimate prescriptions result in 60% of the 15,000 overdose deaths each year. Medicines also become less effective over time as your body gets used to them. They may increase a patient’s perception of pain, and continually increasing the dosage is dangerous and many times impossible.
“For many patients, more and more evidence is coming out that if we can get them off the opiates, or reduce their use and help them become more active, they’ll actually feel better,” Wilson said. “Plus they won’t be at risk for death from opioid overdose, which they’re at risk for now because you often have to keep increasing the opioid dose to get the same pain relief.”
The program used by the study, Goalistics Chronic Pain Management, was developed by Linda Ruehlman and Paul Karoly, who are both psychologists. They did not have any input on the study design or result interpretation. It was funded by the Washington State Life Sciences Discovery Fund, and was done as a part of Wilson’s doctoral dissertation. Her co-authors included John Roll, Cynthia Corbett and Celestina Barbosa-Leiker.