The power of distraction for surgery patients

The power of distraction for surgery patients

Conversing with a nurse, squeezing a stress ball or watching a DVD can reduce a patient’s pain and anxiety levels during surgical procedures in which a patient typically remains awake, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Surrey in the U.K. randomly assigned one of four distraction techniques to nearly 400 patients who underwent varicose vein surgery, which is normally performed while the patient is awake under a local anesthetic.

During the procedure, one group of patients listened to music, while a second group watched a DVD. A third group of patients had a nurse at their side, engaging them in conversation, and the fourth group of patients received two palm-sized stress balls to squeeze. A fifth group – the control group — underwent the same procedure without distraction.

The patients later completed a questionnaire that researchers used to measure their anxiety and pain levels during their procedure.

Results of the study, published in the European Journal of Pain, concluded that patients who spoke to a nurse during their procedure reported feeling 30 percent less anxious than those who received no distractions. Patients given a stress ball to squeeze experienced 22 percent less pain during the procedure.  With the exception of those who listened to music, all distracted patients had some reduction in anxiety compared to those simply undergoing standard protocols without distraction.

“Our research has found a simple and inexpensive way to improve patients’ experiences of this common and unpleasant procedure, and could be used for a wide range of other operations carried out without a general anesthetic,” said the study’s lead author, Jane Ogden, in a statement.

“This could also include the great number of exploratory procedures, such as colonoscopies and hysteroscopies, which are all done while patients are conscious.”

Surgery and simple procedures are not the only occasions when a patient may benefit from a simple distraction.

“Distractions are also beneficial to the patient when they are undergoing imaging scans like an MRI,” said Dr. Syam Reddy, chairman of radiology at Advocate Christ Medical Center. “Christ Medical Center offers MRI Caring Suites that were designed to reduce patient anxiety and enhance comfort during a sometimes uncomfortable scan. Patients have the option to customize music, photos and lighting – all of which can help ease anxiety and enhance comfort.”


Related Posts


One Comment

  1. Anything that reduces anxiety and pain is a valuable tool that should be implemented often.

Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author

Julie Nakis
Julie Nakis

Julie Nakis, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. She earned her BA in communications from the University of Iowa – Go Hawkeyes! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, exploring the city and cheering on the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks.