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Talk therapy could curb opioid crisis and ease pain

Addressing the psychological impact of chronic pain is just as important as addressing the issue itself, new research claims.

The study found people who received psychotherapy, such as simplified pain education and cognitive behavioral therapy, had a greater reduction in pain intensity than those who received usual care such as opioids and other pain medications.

Opioids are commonly prescribed for chronic pain, which affects more than 116 million Americans, which is why hospitals have been linked to the epidemic.  

The new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Alabama, suggests talk therapy could provide a new approach to pain management.

Talk therapy is a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain, new research shows

‘We need more than just medication and surgery for chronic pain because they do not eradicate the problem or increase physical function,’ Dr Beverly Thorn, professor of clinical health psychology, told Daily Mail Online.

For the study, Dr Thorn and her colleagues collected data from 290 patients. They either received cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), simplified pain education (EDU) or usual care.

CBT and EDU therapies were delivered in 10 weekly 90-minute group sessions, with all information and materials modified to be accessible to patients reading at or even below the fifth grade level. 

Researchers found that  CBT and EDU interventions significantly improved pain and physical function between pre- and post-treatment.

Patients enrolled in the talk therapies decreased their pain ratings by 1.5 points, which met the threshold of being a ‘clinically meaningful effect.’ 

‘The findings did not really surprise me and further established that we can capitalize on the core principles of CBT and pain education, and, when delivered appropriately, these approaches can have a “value-added” effect on peoples’ ability to manage chronic pain, over and above what biomedical interventions can provide,’ Dr Thorn told Daily Mail Online.

These talk therapies were so effective in reducing pain because physical issues are also psychological,  she said.

‘Pain involves emotions and thoughts, and all of these are processed by the brain,’ Dr Thorn said.

‘So, with CBT and EDU, especially the way we implemented them, we are empowering patients to learn relevant facts about their condition, and then we engage them in interactive discussions each week around principles of pain self-management,’ she added.

This isn’t the first study to show talk therapy can help relieve pain.

A 2010 study conducted by researchers from University of Warwick in England found CBT could help ease lower back pain.

Furthermore a 2011 study found talk therapy done over the phone could help relieve chronic fibromyalgia-related pain. 

It found one-third of people who had cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT phone sessions felt ‘much better’ or ‘very much better’ after a few months.

More than 115 Americans die from an opioid overdose each day, and the crisis has been linked to hospitals since the drugs are commonly prescribed for chronic pain. 

‘As the opioid epidemic spirals out of control, new approaches to pain management are needed,’ researchers said.


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