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Believe It Or Not, Texting May Help Surgical Patients With Pain Management

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Finally, there's some good news for frequent texters: a recent study shows that digital communication may help minimize the need for pain medication and management.

Patients who text messaged a stranger just before minor surgeries required less supplemental pain relief than patients receiving standard therapy or distraction techniques, according to a recently published study conducted by researchers at RTI International, Cornell University and LaSalle Hospital (Montreal, QC).

We spoke with Jamie Guillory, PhD, digital media health research scientist at RTI International, to learn more.

"These studies are important because they suggest that non-pharmacological interventions, like using emotionally positive social support, have promise as interventions for reducing the need for narcotics during surgery procedures," says Guillory.

According to Guillory, it appears that the content of text messages may be more important than the sender. Guillory tells us "we found that emotionally positive conversations with a stranger reduced the need for narcotics more so than conversations with loved ones". The reason? Conversations with loved ones tended to focus more on the surgery procedure and contain words relating to the patient's body in a negative manner.

"I think the practical takeaway for readers is to make sure that they're providing emotionally positive support to loved ones and friends who are in anxiety provoking and painful circumstances, such as receiving surgical procedures," says Guillory. "Research in a wide variety of contexts has demonstrated the positive effects of this type of social support and we shouldn't underestimate how powerful our love and support can be for others' physical health."

This study is an extension of existing research on the impact of social support on pain perceptions and the need for narcotic pain relief by applying a text-based intervention. Between January and March 2012, researchers worked with 98 patients receiving general anesthesia for minor surgeries. They randomly assigned patients to text message with a companion, text message with a stranger, play a mobile phone game for distraction or receive surgery without any digital communication.

A follow-up study was published this month in the Clinical Journal of Pain that supported the first study's conclusions. It was found that sending twice-daily supportive text messages has a positive impact on reducing patients' daily pain perception.

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Photo: Joi Ito | Flickr

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