No, no, no…this story is not about who you know, but about how large your social circle is. People who are heavily connected–those with lots of friends and strong family ties–do better before and after surgery, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. Socially connected people feel less pain and anxiety before going under the knife, and they spend fewer days in the hospital and use less pain meds following surgery than their more isolated peers.

The study looked at 605 patients at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who underwent major surgery of the chest or abdominal area. The original study actually sought to determine the benefits of massage therapy on surgery patients, but also collected information on the subjects social support networks. They grouped people according to how many close friends and relatives they had, how often they saw them, and whether they attended a place of worship or other social function at least once a week. Participants with large social networks were less likely to exhibit anxiety or feel pain before the surgery or afterward, and required less opiate drugs. As an aside, the research team found that massage relieved pain equivalently to a 1 milligram dose of morphine.

Well, two thoughts here: First, I’m not surprised by these findings but am pleased that this sort of thing has finally been looked at. Far too little time is spent on the mental and emotional components of health and healing. I speak about the social connection aspect of achieving fitness in my upcoming book, The Six Keys to Optimal Health–it seems obvious to me: The more connected you are to others and society as a whole, the more your health will flourish. Further, exercising in groups of two or more does wonders, as people who take advantage of this connection tend to work out more often and push themselves a little harder.

The second thought has to do with the findings on massage. Let’s see, regular bodywork–working out the stresses and tensions of muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments–helps reduce pain? You don’t say? Not only is this one of the major premises of my book, nothing is more obvious to a chiropractor. That’s precisely why we get such great results in chiropractic offices helping people who are in pain; because everybody–and I mean everybody–needs regular maintenance care to work out the wear and tear that accumulates in the body from daily living. Just as a car needs its oil changed and its tires rotated regularly, the human body needs its own regular bodywork.

Bravo! Great study. Heed the results folks–your social life is important in more ways than one. It greatly enhances your mental and emotional well-being, it’s fun, and it positively affects your physical health. And regular bodywork is as good as a shot of narcotic. Whoa! Now that’s a party.

One Response to Social Connections Help Surgical Outcomes

  1. Rann says:

    Great post! I developed Fibromyalgia after years of lymphedema and too much inactivity. This lead me to a physical therapist, that when he started massaging my back was so painful, I cried. He immediate stopped. He’s Italian, and on next visit he told me to start breathing deeply (I guess like pregnancy breathing) at first I thought it a little erotic for some reason, but I noticed the pain was going away! So I kept it up because he started giving deeper massage, it hurt more, so I breathed even more intensely! After he finished I swear I felt euphoric! I was astonished. He told me how proud he was of me. He knew it was hard for me to trust it. Actually since I’ve backed off alot of meds, most symptoms have left. I believe the fillers in drugs play a part in pain- yes even pain relievers, I’ve taken them got addicted (Pain Mgmt) my GP help me back off completely. Pain mgmt wanted to do lower back epidural I denied them, so they fired me. Good for me! Rann (2x cancer survivor; veteran patient)

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