Pleasant sensation is an underexplored avenue for modulation of chronic pain. Deeper pressure is perceived as pleasant and calming, and can improve sleep. Although pressure can reduce acute pain, its effect on chronic pain is poorly characterized. The current remote, double-blind, randomized controlled trial tested the hypothesis that wearing a heavy weighted blanket - providing widespread pressure to the body - relative to a light weighted blanket would reduce ratings of chronic pain, mediated by improvements in anxiety and sleep. Ninety-four adults with chronic pain were randomized to wear a 15-lb. (heavy) or 5-lb. (light) weighted blanket during a brief trial and overnight for one week. Measures of anxiety and chronic pain were collected pre- and post-intervention, and ratings of pain intensity, anxiety, and sleep were collected daily. After controlling for expectations and trait anxiety, the heavy weighted blanket produced significantly greater reductions in broad perceptions of chronic pain than the light weighted blanket (Cohen's f = .19, CI [-1.97, -.91]). This effect was stronger in individuals with high trait anxiety (P = .02). However, weighted blankets did not alter pain intensity ratings. Pain reductions were not mediated by anxiety or sleep. Given that the heavy weighted blanket was associated with greater modulation of affective versus sensory aspects of chronic pain, we propose that the observed reductions are due to interoceptive and social/affective effects of deeper pressure. Overall, we demonstrate that widespread pressure from a weighted blanket can reduce the severity of chronic pain, offering an accessible, home-based tool for chronic pain. The study purpose, targeted condition, study design, and primary and secondary outcomes were pre-registered in ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT04447885: "Weighted Blankets and Chronic Pain"). PERSPECTIVE: This randomized-controlled trial showed that a 15-lb weighted blanket produced significantly greater reductions in broad perceptions of chronic pain relative to a 5-lb weighted blanket, particularly in highly anxious individuals. These findings are relevant to patients and providers seeking home-based, nondrug therapies for chronic pain relief.
Keywords: Chronic pain; anxiety; massage; pleasant touch; pressure; weighted blanket.
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