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Texting for Pain Relief?

Texting for Pain Relief?

New research suggests that texting someone after a minor surgical procedure appears to diminish a patient’s demand for narcotic pain relief.

An investigative team led by Dr. Jeff Hancock of Cornell University and doctoral student Jamie Guillory discovered that the simple act of communicating with a companion or stranger provides an analgesic-sparing effect.

Remarkably, researchers also discovered that “text-based communication with a stranger is more effective” than communicating with a friend, relative, or loved-one.

Study findings have been published in the journal Pain Medicine.

While prior research has shown social support before and during medical procedures can reduce anxiety and perceptions of pain, the benefit of text messaging was unknown.

Therefore, Hancock and his team decided to test whether mobile phones that allow patients to send text messages or play games could bring that support benefit into settings where the company of family members or friends is not possible.

Together with Hancock and Guillory, physicians Drs. Christopher Woodruff and Jeffrey Keilman from McGill University, working at LaSalle Hospital in Montreal, used an experiment to track four groups.

One group included patients receiving standard mobile phone-free perioperative treatment, another group used a mobile phone to play the game Angry Birds, a third group sent text messages to a close friend or family member, and a final group texted with a research assistant and were instructed to focus on “getting to know you” conversations.

The study used a format that maximized anonymity.

Neither the 98 patient volunteers who took part from January to March 2012, the research assistant texting nor nine of the 10 treating anesthesiologists (the lone exception being co-author Woodruff) were aware of the nature of the research, and treatment in all cases was left entirely to the discretion of the physicians.

When the research team analyzed the results they found that patients receiving “standard therapy” — meaning those not using mobile phones during surgery — were almost twice as likely to receive supplemental pain relief as patients who played the game Angry Birds before and during the procedure.

The same patients were more than four times as likely to receive additional analgesic as those texting a companion and, most notably, more than six times as likely to receive additional narcotic relief as patients who engaged in a texting conversation with a stranger.

To validate the latter effect and explore its source, researchers took the additional step of analyzing the language of the two groups allowed to text during their surgeries.

Hancock and his team found that, while the text conversations with companions related more to biology, the body and negative emotions, the texts with a stranger included more words expressing positive emotions, with patients writing more often about self-affirming topics.

The authors say this study provides the first evidence that texting offers this benefit beyond traditional treatment or even “distraction” methods such as playing a video game.

The team called for new work to explore exactly what type of conversations work best, and how far this benefit can be developed to assist patients and doctors.

“Our findings suggest that text messaging may be a more effective intervention that requires no specialized equipment or involvement from clinicians,” the authors write.

“Even more importantly, text-based communication may allow for the analgesic-sparing benefits of social support to be introduced to other clinical settings where this type of support is not otherwise available.”

Source: Cornell University/EurekAlert!

Texting for Pain Relief?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Texting for Pain Relief?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 Apr 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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