Mindfulness Meditation for Spine Surgery Pain

A joint research project between the Department of Neurosurgery and the Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine is evaluating the use of meditation to decrease pain after spine surgery. This particular meditation technique has been shown in clinical trials to reduce patient’s need for pain medication for those with chronic pain, and has been shown to reduce people’s perception of the severity of a painful stimulus. Arthur L. Jenkins, MD, associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, and Patricia Bloom, MD, associate professor in the Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, devised a research trial to see if teaching this technique to patients could reduce the amount of pain medicine needed to manage their pain after spine surgery.

Two weeks prior to surgery, patients enrolled in the research program meet with Dr. Bloom who is a trained mindfulness-based stress reduction instructor. Dr. Bloom has created an audio CD, “Using Your Mind to Heal Your Body,” which patients will listen to twice a day for two weeks prior to their surgery. The CD contains two tracks, one for general relaxation, and the other for relieving pain. After surgery, patients listen to one track a day of their choosing for at least five days a week for 6 weeks post-surgery.

Alan Lampel tried two years of chiropractic care before he was referred to Dr. Jenkins for chronic back pain. A busy stagehand on a hit Broadway show, Mr. Lampel climbed 4 flights of ladders for every show, so when his back pain started affecting his job, he knew he had to take action. Before his surgery Mr. Lampel learned about the mindfulness meditation study. Having been exposed to meditation before, Mr. Lampel was interested in the study and was enrolled.

After meeting with Dr. Bloom and using the tracks for two weeks, Mr. Lampel felt like he was able to approach his surgery with a positive attitude, something he attributes to how well he did post-surgery.

Patients in the study are given a pain questionnaire prior to surgery and at regular intervals until 6 weeks post-surgery.  These questionnaires are used to monitor pain medication intake, depression, anxiety and stress levels.

After 6 days in the hospital, Mr. Lampel was discharged and sent home with a visiting nurse who came periodically to manage his care. The stress of rehab, extended care, being home and being in pain was overwhelming, but Mr. Lampel credits the meditation for keeping him positive and allowing him to stay focused on getting up and out of bed. “Listening to the tracks takes you to a positive place in your mind. There is so much going on around you, its hard to find peace, but being able to get there is worth all of the hours of listening to the tracks, “ said Mr. Lampel.

Mr. Lampel knows all too well from his career on Broadway that “the show must go on.” Using meditation pre and post-operatively, Mr. Lampel was able to limit his pain medication consumption, was able to start rehabilitation therapy earlier and is now happily back to work. As Mr. Lampel says, “getting good sleep and staying positive is the key to getting through something like this, and meditation helped me do both of those things.”

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