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Alternative Treatments Relieve Pain in Hospitalized Patients


Alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage, music therapy, and aromatherapy, among others, can effectively relieve pain in hospitalized patients. This finding by researchers at Abbott Northwestern Hospital comes from a first-of-its-kind study of the impact of an inpatient integrative medicine program on pain.

Pain management among hospitalized patients, including postoperative patients, is a challenge for physicians, as they face being able to effectively manage pain while also trying to avoid the adverse effects associated with opioids. Given that approximately 80 percent of patients experience moderate to severe pain after surgery, having alternative forms of pain relief would be most welcome.

Researchers at Abbott Northwestern Hospital may have found such alternatives. They conducted a study in which 1,837 cardiovascular, medical, surgical, orthopedic, spine, rehabilitation, oncology, and women’s health patients ranked their pain on a zero-to-ten scale before and after receiving alternative therapies. The treatments included acupuncture, acupressure, aromatherapy, healing touch, massage therapy, mind/body therapies that elicit the relaxation response, music therapy, and reflexology.

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Earlier studies have focused on the impact of specific alternative therapies on pain in different populations, including cancer and postsurgical patients. One recent study, for example, looked at the use of acupuncture to treat postoperative pain in children, and found it to be beneficial. In another study, investigators explored the impact of music therapy on postoperative pain. Of the 18 studies reviewed by the researchers, they discovered that in 15 of them music had a significant effect on postoperative pain, including lowering the use of analgesics in four studies.

The Abbott Northwestern Hospital study results, however, show that these alternative therapies are effective in reducing pain by more than 50 percent across a range of patient populations. They also can be put into practice in real time and within the operational and financial limitations in an acute care hospital setting.

Jeffery A. Dusek, PhD, research director for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, notes that future research will focus on identifying which patients may most benefit from alternative therapies, the most appropriate doses, and the duration of pain relief. Another goal will be to quantify reductions in total hospitalization costs, use of medication, and adverse events.

Use of alternative treatments for pain relief in hospitalized patients could “improve patient satisfaction and outcomes,” says Lori Knutson, RN, BSN, HD-BC, executive director of the George Institute. “We will see cost savings from patients using fewer drugs and experiencing fewer adverse events.”

Abbott Northwestern Hospital press release, Mar. 5, 2010
Engwall M, Duppils GS. Journal of Perianesthesia Nursing 2009 Dec; 24(6): 370-83
Wu S et al. Pediatric Critical Care Medicine 2009 May; 10(3): 291-96



Great post! There are many uses and applications of medical music therapy. Thank you for posting results from these studies.