(646) 355-8777

Herman & Wallace Blog

Positive Activities

Coaching Patients to Engage in Positive Activities to Improve Outcomes

Substantial attention has been given to the impact of negative emotional states on persistent pain conditions. The adverse effects of anger, fear, anxiety and depression on pain are well-documented. Complementing this emphasis on negative emotions, Hanssen and colleagues suggest that interventions aimed at cultivating positive emotional states may have a role to play in pain reduction and/or improved well-being in patients, despite pain. They suggest positive affect may promote adaptive function and buffer the adversities of a chronic pain condition.

Hanssen and colleagues propose positive psychology interventions could contribute to improved pain, mood and behavioral measures through various mechanisms. These include the modulation of spinal and supraspinal nociceptive pathways, buffering the stress reaction and reducing stress-induced hyperalgesia, broadening attention, decreasing negative pain-related cognitions, diminishing rigid behavioral responses and promoting behavioral flexibility.

In a feasibility trial, 96 patients were randomized to a computer-based positive activity intervention or control condition. The intervention required participants perform at least one positive activity for at least 15 minutes at least 1 day/week for 8 weeks. The positive activity included such tasks as performing good deeds for others, counting blessings, taking delight in life’s momentary wonders and pleasures, writing about best possible future selves, exercising or devoting time to pursuing a meaningful goal. The control group was instructed to be attentive to their surroundings and write about events or activities for at least 15 minutes at least 1 day/week for 8 weeks. Those in the positive activity intervention demonstrated significant improvements in pain intensity, pain interference, pain control, life satisfaction, and depression, and at program completion and 2-month follow-up. Based on these promising results, authors suggest that a full trial of the intervention is warranted.

Rehabilitation professionals often encourage patients with persistent pain conditions to participate in activities they enjoy. This research highlights the importance of this instruction and patient guidelines can include the activities identified in the Muller article. In addition, mindful awareness training may further enhance a patient’s experience as he or she learns to pay close attention to the physical sensations, emotions and thoughts that accompany positive experiences. I look forward to discussing this article as well as sharing the principles and practices of mindfulness in my upcoming course, Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment at Samuel Merritt University, Oakland, CA. Course participants will learn about mindfulness and pain research, practice mindful breathing, body scan and movement and expand their pain treatment tool box with practical strategies to improve pain treatment outcomes. I hope you will join me!


Hanssen MM, Peters ML, Boselie JJ, Meulders A. Can positive affect attenuate (persistent) pain? Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2017;19(12):80.
Muller R, Gertz KJ, Molton IR, et al. Effects of a tailored positive psychology intervention on well-being and pain in individuals with chronic pain and physical disability: a feasibility trial. Clin J Pain.2016;32(1):32-44.

Pregnancy Associated Ligamentous Laxity
Dysfunction in Glans Penis

Upcoming Continuing Education Courses

Jan 10, 2020 - Jan 12, 2020
Location: Dominican Hospital - Physical Therapy

Jan 17, 2020 - Jan 19, 2020
Location: Spooner Physical Therapy

Jan 17, 2020 - Jan 19, 2020
Location: Banner Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

Jan 17, 2020 - Jan 19, 2020
Location: Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital

Jan 24, 2020 - Jan 26, 2020
Location: Nova Southeastern University

Jan 24, 2020 - Jan 26, 2020
Location: UCLA Health

Feb 1, 2020 - Feb 2, 2020
Location: Evergreen Hospital Medical Center

Feb 1, 2020 - Feb 2, 2020
Location: Ochsner Health System

Feb 7, 2020 - Feb 9, 2020
Location: FunctionSmart Physical Therapy

Feb 22, 2020 - Feb 23, 2020
Location: Pacific Medical Centers

Feb 28, 2020 - Mar 1, 2020
Location: Inova Physical Therapy Center

Feb 28, 2020 - Mar 1, 2020
Location: University of North Texas Health Science Center

Feb 28, 2020 - Mar 1, 2020
Location: Novant Health

Feb 28, 2020 - Mar 1, 2020
Location: Rex Hospital

Feb 28, 2020 - Feb 29, 2020
Location: Rex Hospital

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: 360 Sports Medicine & Aquatic Rehabilitation Centers

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: University of Missouri-Smiley Lane Therapy Services

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: Princeton Healthcare System

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: Ochsner Health System

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: Spectrum Health System

Mar 7, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: Veterans Administration - Salt Lake City

Mar 7, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: GWUH Outpatient Rehabilitation Center

Mar 13, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Sentara Therapy Center - Princess Anne

Mar 13, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Thomas Jefferson University

Mar 13, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Franklin Pierce University

Mar 14, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Park Nicollet Clinic--St. Louis Park

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Allina Hospitals and Clinics

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Comprehensive Therapy Services

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Shelby Baptist Medical Center