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Meditation helps patients manage chronic pain and stress

Experts at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City have found that practices such as meditation and mindful breathing can help patients manage chronic pain. In some cases, patients engaging in these activities were able to skip their medication, including opioids.

Maggie Wimmer is the coordinator of Programs and Outcomes and Public and Patient Education at HSS.

“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 Wimmer. “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 program in 2017 for patients in the hospital’s Ambulatory Care Center, which serves a diverse, low income community of individuals living with chronic musculoskeletal conditions. The program featured a monthly workshop, led by a meditation instructor and a social worker, where participants engaged in mindful breathing techniques and meditation to manage chronic pain and stress.

Researchers evaluated the program by surveying participants after each monthly meeting. Overall, 98 percent of patients either agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the program, while 95 percent said the program increased their understanding of how to manage pain and stress. In addition, 93 percent of the participants said that they would recommend the program to others.

The study also revealed that one out of three participants used the meditation techniques in place of their medication five or more times in the week prior to being surveyed. Over half of the patients reported that mindful breathing helped them manage their chronic pain and stress.

According to the social worker, many participants experienced improved daily function, calmness, and improved state of mind after practicing the meditation techniques.

Robyn Wiesel is the associate director of Public and Patient Education at HSS.

“The results indicate that alternative approaches are effective in reducing pain and stress, and in improving self-management and general well-being,” said Weisel. “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.”

The research was presented at the American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals annual meeting on October 24 in Chicago.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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