Psychological interventions to reduce postoperative pain and opioid consumption: a narrative review of literature

Reg Anesth Pain Med. 2021 Oct;46(10):893-903. doi: 10.1136/rapm-2020-102434. Epub 2021 May 25.


Background: Evidence suggests that over half of patients undergoing surgical procedures suffer from poorly controlled postoperative pain. In the context of an opioid epidemic, novel strategies for ameliorating postoperative pain and reducing opioid consumption are essential. Psychological interventions defined as strategies targeted towards reducing stress, anxiety, negative emotions and depression via education, therapy, behavioral modification and relaxation techniques are an emerging approach towards these endpoints.

Objective: This review explores the efficacy of psychological interventions for reducing postoperative pain and opioid use in the acute postoperative period.

Evidence review: An extensive literature search was conducted in MEDLINE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Medline In-Process/ePubs, Embase, Ovid Emcare Nursing, and PsycINFO, Web of Science (Clarivate), PubMed-NOT-Medline (NLM), CINAHL and ERIC, and two trials registries, ClinicalTrials.Gov (NIH) and WHO ICTRP. Included studies were limited to those investigating adult human subjects, and those published in English.

Findings: Three distinct forms of psychological interventions were identified: relaxation, psychoeducation and behavioral modification therapy. Study results showed a reduction in both postoperative opioid use and pain scores (n=5), reduction in postoperative opioid use (n=3), reduction in postoperative pain (n=5), no significant reduction in pain or opioid use (n=7), increase in postoperative opioid use (n=1) and an increase in postoperative pain (n=1).

Conclusion: Some preoperative psychological interventions can reduce pain scores and opioid consumption in the acute postoperative period; however, there is a clear need to strengthen the evidence for these interventions. The optimal technique, strategies, timing and interface requires further investigation.

Keywords: acute pain; analgesics; opioid; pain; pain management; postoperative.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid* / adverse effects
  • Anxiety
  • Humans
  • Pain, Postoperative / diagnosis
  • Pain, Postoperative / epidemiology
  • Pain, Postoperative / etiology
  • Psychosocial Intervention*
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic


  • Analgesics, Opioid