Mindfulness, Hypnosis and Prayer as Management for Pain

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Mindfulness, Hypnosis and Prayer as Management for Pain

Jim Windell


           We all know what pain is. And we’ve all experienced it at times. Technically, pain starts in receptor nerve cells found beneath the skin and in organs throughout the body. When you are sick, injured, or have some other type of problem, these receptor cells send messages along nerve pathways to the spinal cord, which then carries the message to the brain.

           That pain message in the brain lets us know whether it is a slightly bothersome mild headache – or whether it something more excruciating chest, say, the pain that accompanies a heart attack or the pain that tells you are passing a kidney stone. Mostly, we experience acute pain, but when our pain lasts for more than three months it is usually classified as chronic. Chronic pain is one of the most costly health problems in the U.S. because of increased medical expenses, lost income, lost productivity and compensation payments.

           Typical treatment for pain may range from over-the-counter medicines to prescription pain medicines, including opioids. When opioids are involved, though, there is the additional danger of side effects and abuse. However, pain is more than a physical phenomenon. It is a complex experience influenced by biological, psychological and social factors. Consequently, adequate pain management requires more than biological treatments alone, such as analgesic medications.

           A new study combining the efforts of researchers from Australia, Portugal and the U.S. is suggesting that acute pain may be best managed without medication. As the article about the study, recently published in the Journal of Pain Research, points out, there are several approaches to pain management that focus on the biopsychosocial factors that influence pain, including psychosocial, complementary and integrative approaches. Previous studies confirm the usefulness of hypnosis, mindfulness meditation and prayer as useful practices in the self-management of chronic pain in adults. However, their effects on acute pain have been less investigated and there has not yet been any study that has compared the immediate effects of these three approaches on the experience of acute pain.

           In the study, researchers compared the immediate effects of hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, and Christian prayer on pain intensity and tolerance. The study took place at the facilities of the Psychology Laboratory of the William James Center for Research at Ispa – Instituto Universitário in Lisbon, Portugal. The participants were 232 healthy adults. Pain was induced in the participants by wrapping the forearm and hand in a cold compress for up to five minutes at the most and assessing their pain tolerance, the intensity of pain, as well as heart rate variability, as a physiological marker of stress. After a rest period, participants listened to a 20-minute recording of guided hypnosis, or mindfulness meditation, or suggesting a Christian prayer, or reading a natural history book (control condition) depending on the group they were randomly assigned to. After this session, the participants underwent a second session of cold compresses, during which they listened to up to five minutes of the recording and their cardiac function was monitored.

           Results of the research suggest that a single brief session of hypnosis and mindfulness meditation, but not Ignatian Christian prayer based on biblical meditation, may be useful for acute pain self-management, with hypnosis being the slightly superior option.

           According to Alexandra Ferreira-Valente, team coordinator, “In the future, researchers should compare the effects of different types of prayer and examine the predictors and moderators of the effects of hypnosis and mindfulness on the experience of acute pain.”

           To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Ferreira-Valente, A., Van Dyke, B.P., Day, M.A., Teotónio do Carmo, C., Pais-Ribeiro, J., Pimenta, F., Costa, R.M., & Jensen, M.P. (2022). Immediate Effects of Hypnosis, Mindfulness Meditation, and Prayer on Cold Pressor Outcomes: A Four-Arm Parallel Experimental StudyJournal of Pain Research, 15:4077-4096



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