Skip to main content

The Use of Prayer in the Management of Pain: A Systematic Review


The availability of safe and effective non-pharmacological therapies for pain is an important unmet medical need. Prayer may be considered as an effective adjunctive therapy for pain and this systematic review aims to clarify this association. Pertinent databases were searched for English language publications, dated 2000–2019. Inclusion criteria involved prayer as an on-site or personal intervention and at least one pre-specified pain-related outcome. We evaluated 411 abstracts. Nine studies met criteria. Active prayer to God emerged as a preferred beneficial intervention for religious patients undergoing surgery or a painful procedure. Prayer effect does not seem to be opioid mediated. Improved trial design will facilitate the study of prayer as an adjuvant therapy for pain.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  • Andersson, G. (2008). Chronic pain and praying to a higher power: Useful or useless? Journal of Religion and Health,47(2), 176–187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Beiranvand, S., Noparast, M., Eslamizade, N., & Saeedikia, S. (2014). The effects of religion and spirituality on postoperative pain, hemodynamic functioning and anxiety after cesarean section. Acta Medica Iranica,52(12), 909–915.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Black, L. I., Clarke, T. C., Barnes, P. M., Stussman, B. J., & Nahin, R. L. (2015). Use of complementary health approaches among children aged 4–17 years in the United States: National Health Interview Survey, 2007–2012. National Health Statistics Reports,10(78), 1–19.

    Google Scholar 

  • Clarke, T. C., Black, L. I., Stussman, B. J., Barnes, P. M., & Nahin, R. L. (2015). Trends in the use of complementary health approaches among adults: United States, 2002–2012. National Health Statistics Reports,10(79), 1–16.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dahlhamer, J., Lucas, J., Zelaya, C., Nahin, R., Mackey, S., DeBar, L., et al. (2018). Prevalence of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain among adults—United States, 2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,67(36), 1001–1006.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dezutter, J., Wachholtz, A., & Corveleyn, J. (2011). Prayer and pain: The mediating role of positive re-appraisal. Journal of Behavioral Medicine,34(6), 542–549.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eilami, O., Moslemirad, M., Naimi, E., Babuei, A., & Rezaei, K. (2019). The effect of religious psychotherapy emphasizing the importance of prayers on mental health and pain in cancer patients. Journal of Religion and Health,58(2), 444–451.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elmholdt, E., Skewes, J., Dietz, M., Møller, A., Jensen, M. S., Roepstorff, A., et al. (2017). Reduced pain sensation and reduced BOLD signal in parietofrontal networks during religious prayer. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,11, 337.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hamman, A. G. (2015). Prayer. In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved October 23, 2019 from

  • Hassanpour-Dehkordi, A., Fatehi, D., & Solati, K. (2016). Analgesic plus prayer versus analgesic alone. Effect of prayer on intensity of postoperative pain, anxiety and physiological indices in surgical patients. A randomized clinical trial. Heroin Addiction and Related Clinical Problems,18(6), 13–20.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jegindø, E. M. E., Vase, L., Skewes, J. C., Terkelsen, A. J., Hansen, J., Geertz, A. W., et al. (2013). Expectations contribute to reduced pain levels during prayer in highly religious participants. Journal of Behavioral Medicine,36(4), 413–426.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lakens, D. (2013). Calculating and reporting effect sizes to facilitate cumulative science: A practical primer for t-tests and ANOVAs. Frontiers in Psychology,4, 863.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Masters, K. S., & Spielmans, G. I. (2007). Prayer and health: Review, meta-analysis, and research agenda. Journal of Behavioral Medicine,30(4), 329–338.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meints, S. M., & Hirsh, A. T. (2015). In vivo praying and catastrophizing mediate the race differences in experimental pain sensitivity. The Journal of Pain,16(5), 491–497.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meints, S. M., Mosher, C., Rand, K. L., Ashburn-Nardo, L., & Hirsh, A. T. (2018). An experimental investigation of the relationships among race, prayer, and pain. Scandinavian Journal of Pain,18(3), 545–553.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Merskey, H., Albe-Fessard, D. G., Bonica, J. J., Carmen, A., Dubner, R., Kerr, F. W. L., et al. (1979). IASP sub-committee on taxonomy. Pain,6(3), 249–252.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J., & Altman, D. G. (2009). The PRISMA group. Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: The PRISMA statement. PLoS Med.,6(6), e1000097.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rahman, F. S., Yahya, N., Din, N. M. M., Izaham, A., & Mat, W. R. W. (2018). The comparative effects of listening to prayer recitation and music therapy intraoperatively on postoperative pain. International Medical Journal Malaysia,17(2), 107–115.

    Google Scholar 

  • Robles, B., Upchurch, D. M., & Kuo, T. (2017). Comparing complementary and alternative medicine use with or without including prayer as a modality in a local and diverse United States jurisdiction. Frontiers in Public Health,5, 56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosenstiel, A. K., & Keefe, F. J. (1983). The use of coping strategies in chronic low back pain patients: Relationship to patient characteristics and current adjustment. Pain,17(1), 33–44.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Wachholtz, A. B., Pearce, M. J., & Koenig, H. (2007). Exploring the relationship between spirituality, coping, and pain. Journal of Behavioral Medicine,30(4), 311–318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, D. (2001). Effect Size Calculator. Retrieved November 28, 2019 from

Download references


This paper was written in fulfillment of the Capstone requirement for the degree of Master of Science in Pain Research, Education and Policy (PREP) at Tufts University School of Medicine Public Health and Professional Degree Programs, Boston, MA. The authors wish to thank Dr. Ylisabyth (Libby) Bradshaw, DO, MS, Academic Advisor and Dr. Daniel Carr, Program Director at Tufts University School of Medicine PREP Program for their support of this project. Special thanks to Ms. Amy Lapidow, Librarian at the Hirsh Medical Library, Tufts University School of Medicine, for technical assistance, and Dr. Samantha Meints, Post-doctoral Fellow, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA for research consulting.


No funding was received.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marta Illueca.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Illueca, M., Doolittle, B.R. The Use of Prayer in the Management of Pain: A Systematic Review. J Relig Health 59, 681–699 (2020).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: