Top 5 ways mindfulness will help your total joint surgery

Mindfulness is getting a lot of attention lately. Everyone from Oprah to articles on CNBC tout the power of medication. 
How much of this attention is real and how much is hype. We've looked at the research and found the top 4.5 ways meditation will profoundly help you through your total joint surgery.

1) Faster Wound Healing:

Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D. in USNews wrote about her research, “Psychological stress can extend the time required to heal wounds by 25 percent or more… For example, dental students took an average of 40 percent longer to heal a small, standardized wound made prior to exams, compared to an identical wound made during their summer vacation.” (1)

Currently being in silicon valley the dichotomy of writing about stress knowing there is a 2-hour commute ahead of me is not missed. So many of the typical ‘reduce your stress’ messages blend into the background of slow traffic and high housing cost. I love this study because it’s so concrete and so poignant. Maybe our stress isn’t killing us but it’s sure slowing down our healing time.

Although stress can slow healing, a mindfulness practice has been shown to speed up healing. In a 2017 study from the Netherlands, researchers found that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction aided in early-stage wound healing. (2) Mindfulness, a thought, lowered the level of proteins that cause inflammation.

Your mind is powerful.

2) Lower Levels of Stress & Anxiety

There are so many studies that report lower levels of stress from mediating. Most studies survey participants about how they feel about the practice. They always show a reduction in stress and anxiety.

For those readers who want hard data, I want to focus on a study from 2016, Guided Imagery for Total Knee Replacement: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. In it, they didn’t just participate in a self-reported survey. These researchers tested the hair from each subject to measure the amount of cortisol, a stress hormone.

As you can guess, all participants that practiced a guided imagery meditation had significantly reduced levels of cortisol after 6 months.

To highlight one more study, in 2015 research studied the impact of mindfulness on pain and anxiety in total joint patients in a randomized trial. Yep! As you guessed the group that practiced guided imagery show the largest decrease in both pain and anxiety. (3)

I find convincing people that mindfulness reduces stress isn’t difficult. Finding time is a challenge. Finding the time now, before your surgery, has never been more important. Just 15 minutes, or 1% of your day, can transform how you experience your surgery.

3) Increased Immune Function

When you go into your surgery one of the injections you will receive is an antibiotic. This is routine to protect against infections which can arise from having surgery. You can help your body even more by practicing a mindfulness practice before your surgery.

Researchers from the Fox Chase Cancer Center decided to study the impacts of mindfulness on the immune system. After an 8 week, MBSR program researchers measured levels of natural killer (NK) cell cytolytic activity and C-reactive protein (CRP) as an indication of how active their immune systems were. They found that practicing mindfulness increased immune function. (4) That’s amazing to think a thought and have it up-regulate your health. This isn’t the only study either...

  • In a recent study from Sweden in 2017 concluded “Significant benefits in immune response within the MBSR group and between groups were observed”
  • Chicago research found that “Moreover, women enrolled in the MBSR (mindfulness) program had reduced cortisol levels, improved QOL, and increased coping effectiveness compared to the Non-MBSR group. In summary, MBSR is a program that is feasible for women recently diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and the results provide preliminary evidence for beneficial effects of MBSR; on immune function, QOL, and coping. “(5)
    Not only did mindfulness measurably reduce stress, but it also increased the quality of life, coping and immune function.

This is just a small sample of studies. This list could easily go on but we’ll stop it here. Mindfulness will increase your immune function.

4) Increased Pain Threshold

The truth is, surgeries often come with pain. Your entire care team will make sure there is a plan in place to properly manage your pain level. One of the reasons they make sure your pain is being managed is that they know the pain will slow your healing.

The pain medications you’ll be given will help remove the pain. Meditation, however, will help you deal with the pain and discomfort in a better way. In a study from Permanente Journal researchers found that patient that used medication didn’t use less pain medication but were able to manage their symptoms significantly better. They were happier, had less anxiety, and reduced pain scores. Their pain threshold increased. (7)

Of course, they weren’t alone. The connection between pain threshold and medication is very strong. In a study from the University of Ottawa found that “those randomly assigned to treatment with MBSR (mindfulness) experienced improved function, better health-related quality of life, and reduced pain intensity, pain catastrophizing, and depression compared to those receiving usual care.” (8)

Can this help with your total joint surgery? Yep - there’s a study for that too!

Published research in the Permanente Journal said regarding their study, “This study yielded positive findings for the management of pain and anxiety in patients undergoing elective joint replacement using M (medication) and guided imagery for 18 to 20 minutes compared with usual care.” (9)

Pain medications will help you but according to this study, you can help yourself reduce pain and anxiety by a simple meditation practice for 20 minutes a day.

5) Better outcome?

Given all of this research, it seems to clear your how you think about your surgery will impact how you recover. When you enter surgery with a positive mindset you're going to have a better surgical experience. If you heal faster, reduce stress, reduce anxiety, increase immune function and increase your pain threshold I don’t know how that’s not improving the outcome of your surgery… however, if you want one more study…

In PsychoOncology, researchers were studying interventions needed during the difficult transitional period after surviving breast cancer. They found, “In stratified analyses, subjects more compliant with MBSR tended to experience greater improvements in measures of energy and physical functioning. (10) Physical function? Yep. As the level of medication increased so did the benefits during recovery.  

There you have it. The top 5 reasons meditation will help you during and after your total joint surgery. Let us know what you think, and what meditation helps you.