In Pain? Reading May Bring You Relief, Study Suggests

LIVERPOOL, England — Have a throbbing back but would prefer to pass on popping a pill? You might find some relief at your local library, believe it or not.

A new study out of England finds “shared reading,” an activity similar to participating in a book club, can be used as an effective therapy to help treat people who suffer from chronic pain.

Chronic pain is pain that lasts over six months and comes from actual or potential damage to tissue in the body. Although the pain might be extreme, it may or may not respond to traditional medical treatments. Nerve impulses generally send messages of pain to the brain, but with chronic pain there are extra nerves involved that might be sending the wrong message. In other words, a person’s nerves might be sending the signal of pain even if there isn’t actually any physical damage to the body.

Treating chronic pain is often done with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — the common therapy used for people with depression or anxiety — in an attempt to get the brain to send new messages that result in a reduction of the sensation of pain.

reading books
A new study finds that chronic pain sufferers may find some relief by reading more often.

But according to the new study, shared reading has therapeutic benefits not found in CBT. In a typical session, people get together weekly in groups of up to 12 to read books aloud, taking occasional breaks to reflect on the material and relate it to their own lives and experiences, according to a release from the University of Liverpool, where the study took place. Participants of the study took part in either a shared reading group or CBT sessions. Those in the CBT group joined the shared reading group after five weeks.

The study showed that people who suffered from chronic pain and took part in shared reading experiences were able to turn their passive experiences of suffering into “articulate contemplation of painful concerns.” Those in the CBT group were only able to “manage” emotions through common practices learned from therapy.

“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,” Dr. Josie Billington, who led the study at the University of Liverpool, says in the press release.  “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.”

The full study, entitled “A Comparative Study of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Shared Reading for Chronic Pain” can be found here. Billington also recently authored the book, Is Literature Healthy?

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