Radha Korupolu, MD, associate professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, has received a 3-year, $714,096 grant from the National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, for a pilot study on mindfulness mediation training.
Chronic pain affects between 65 and 85 percent of people with spinal cord injuries, leading to anxiety, depression, and poor health-related quality of life. Traditional therapeutic options for chronic pain include pharmacological agents like opioids, which are often ineffective at pain relief and cause significant, damaging side effects.
An emerging possible treatment for chronic pain in patients without spinal cord injury is mindfulness meditation training; however, in patients with spinal cord injury, these treatments can prove to be too lengthy and costly, and require patients to visit physicians in person.
One solution, which Korupolu’s team will test, could be to use mobile apps that would be cost-effective, easy to use, and not require in-person doctor visits.
“Mounting evidence suggests that mobile apps may provide an effective and low-cost way to provide mindfulness meditation,” said Korupolu, who is also an attending physician in the Spinal Cord Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann. “Indeed, one recent study found that internet-based mindfulness meditation training led to reduced pain interference and improved mental health in people with SCI and chronic pain, suggesting app-based mindfulness meditation interventions may have promise in this population.”
Korupolu’s team will study the feasibility and acceptability of mindfulness meditation by randomizing 60 spinal cord injury patients experiencing chronic pain to practice audio-guided mindfulness meditation training, using a free app, “Mindfulness Coach,” or by viewing TED Talks, for more than 10 minutes a day for six weeks. The group will also collect data on patient-reported outcomes of pain, anxiety, depression, mindfulness, and quality of life.
“Given the great need for remotely delivered, low-cost chronic pain management and unique physiological limitations among persons with spinal cord injury, it is essential to determine the feasibility and acceptability of a free, publicly available app-based mindfulness meditation intervention prior to conducting a larger study,” Korupolu said in her proposal. “With the emerging use of telemedicine in the COVID-19 era, therapy focused apps and remote data collection are becoming increasingly popular making this line of inquiry both timely and innovative.”
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