Cognitive behavior therapy may ease chronic pain

People who suffer from chronic pain may sleep better and experience less pain if they learn to focus less on their ailments, according to a study recently published in the journal Pain.

Approximately 80% of people with chronic pain experience sleep disturbances, which have been linked to heightened sensitivity to pain, according to Luis F. Buenaver, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University and lead researcher of the study. Previous studies have also shown that people who focus more negatively on their pain experience more debilitating symptoms.

For this study, the researchers examined 214 participants with myofascial temporomandibular disorder who were experiencing severe facial and jaw pain. The participants, mostly white females with an average age of 34, filled out questionnaires about sleep quality, depression, pain levels and emotional responses to pain.

The researchers found a direct correlation between negative thinking about pain and poor sleep, along with a correlation between negative thinking and worse pain. According to Buenaver, medication can help, but patients may also benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy.

“We have found that people who ruminate about their pain and have more negative thoughts about their pain don’t sleep as well, and the result is they feel more pain,” Buenaver stated in a press release. “If cognitive behavioral therapy can help people change the way they think about their pain, they might end that vicious cycle and feel better without sleeping pills or pain medicine.”

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