Researchers Receive $3.2 Million to Study Efficacy of Mind-body Practices in Improving Pain, Surgical Outcomes

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Nov. 10, 2022 – Can mind-body practices such as gentle yoga or self-reflection benefit patients undergoing surgery? It’s a question that researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine are examining with the support of a five-year, $3.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Research shows that yoga practices such as meditation, mindful movement and deep breathing reduce pain, psychological distress and sleep disturbances. Self-reflection through supportive conversation and journaling can also improve physical and psychological health. Yet, little research exists to evaluate the potential benefit of practicing yoga or self-reflection in coordination with surgical care.

“Women undergoing surgery are at risk of developing chronic pain, which can be exacerbated by also experiencing stress or disturbed sleep,” said Stephanie Sohl, Ph.D., principal investigator and assistant professor of social sciences and health policy at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “By improving the management of acute surgical pain and related experiences, we hope to proactively improve the well-being of this vulnerable population.”

For the study, researchers will conduct a randomized clinical trial for women undergoing surgery for suspected gynecologic malignancies at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist’s NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Winston-Salem or Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte.

According to Sohl, it is important to find a way to address the whole person, including their mental and behavioral health, to optimize surgical outcomes.

“The mind-body interventions that will be tested in this study include patients as active participants who contribute to improving their own well-being,” Sohl said. “Our team designed the interventions to be coordinated with the clinic flow and provide comprehensive care.”

The trial—REmotely-delivered Supportive Programs for Improving surgical pain and disTrEss (RESPITE)—will compare the efficacy of two supportive programs delivered by telephone and video conference. All practices are simple and can be done from a chair or bed in any location.

Sohl said researchers will examine the efficacy of the interventions for improving pain, psychological distress and sleep disturbances and will measure behaviors such as mobility that may affect well-being after surgery.

“Our pilot study showed that mind-body practices are feasible to do and may be beneficial to patients. We hope this larger trial will provide data needed to inform providing a low-cost, non-pharmacological approach for improving outcomes in women undergoing gynecologic surgery.”