Chronic pain affects millions of people in the United States, and it can severely interfere with everyday functioning. However, recent research suggests a new treatment strategy for the condition: shared reading.
If you suffer from chronic pain, read a book. Researchers from the University of Liverpool found that reading has similar effects on the brain as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Chronic pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage. It is pain which persists for more than six months.
Usually pain is picked up by specialized cells in your body, and impulses are sent through the nervous system to the brain. What happens in people with chronic pain, however, is that other nerves are recruited into this 'pain' pathway which start to fire off messages to the brain when there is no physical stimulus or damage.
Patients are increasingly turning to non-pharmacological strategies, such as CBT, to help alleviate pain.
CBT is a form of talk therapy that aims to change the way people think and behave in order to better manage mental and physical issues. It is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression.
Studies have shown that the technique may be effective for chronic pain, but the results can be short-lived.
For their research, Billington and colleagues wanted to compare shared reading with CBT for chronic pain, since shared reading is often used to help ease the symptoms of other chronic conditions, such as dementia.
Participants with severe chronic pain were recruited to the study. Some subjects completed 5 weeks of CBT, and parallel to this, the remaining subjects completed 22 weeks of shared reading. After 5 weeks, participants who completed CBT joined the shared reading group.
The shared reading strategy incorporated literature that was designed to prompt memories of relationships, family members, work, and other experiences that arise throughout a lifetime.
"Our study indicated that shared reading could potentially be an alternative to CBT in bringing into conscious awareness areas of emotional pain otherwise passively suffered by chronic pain patients.
The encouragement of greater confrontation and tolerance of emotional difficulty that sharing reading provides makes it valuable as a longer-term follow-up or adjunct to CBT's concentration on short-term management of emotion."