How Hypnotherapy Could Be the Answer to Managing Chronic Pain


Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that affects millions of people around the world, and it is a burden that can be difficult to bear. It is a condition that can leave people feeling trapped, isolated, and frustrated, as they struggle to find relief from their pain.

Even short term pain is hard to cope with, as our primal response is to try to make it stop as soon as possible, and anyone who has experienced pain that extends beyond a few hours or a day can easily imagine how hard chronic pain must be to live with, emotionally as well as physically. People with chronic pain may find it difficult to perform everyday tasks, and may struggle to keep up with work, family, and social obligations. They may feel like they are a burden to those around them, and may even experience feelings of guilt or shame as a result. 

Many sufferers are reliant on a regular prescription of drugs to manage their symptoms, but for many these options aren’t always effective, and relying on long-term painkillers could lead to a whole host of other issues. So what next for those who have exhausted their options, and what lies ahead?

Managing Chronic Pain in Parkinson's Disease


Living with long-term chronic pain not only poses a burden physically, but can be incredibly detrimental to one’s mental health. The constant pain can not only prevent sufferers from partaking in regular social activity but it can leave them bed-ridden and unable to work. Financially, it can be devastating as people can feel their old lives slowly slipping away without any means of control. Unexplained pain can be even more frustrating as the futile search for answers can make recovery even more difficult.

How do pain receptors work?

Chronic pain can manifest itself in a number of ways. From physical joint pain and fibromyalgia, to chronic headaches and irritable bowel syndrome, it can be incredibly life-limiting to spend your days in pain without a solution. To understand what chronic pain is exactly, it’s important to understand the science behind pain, why it happens and how it works.

Pain can be defined as a negative sensation formed in response to illness or injury. It’s our body's way of protecting itself and notifying that whatever is causing it is bad. This definition implies that it can be relatively straightforward to remove the stressor so that the pain will stop, but what if we don’t know what is causing the pain? What if it isn’t physically possible to stop it?

picture of a brain with squiggly lines and light around it

When our body undergoes injury or illness, our nerve receptors quickly inform the brain that there’s an issue and in turn, the brain sends signals to create the feeling of pain. Your body is designed to protect you from potential threats, be it a sharp needle or a hot surface. The brain is wholly responsible for creating that feeling of pain and should be a key target when considering pain management.

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Man's back with illustration of spinal cord looking red and inflamed on his back


What are the current methods of treatment?

Painkillers and exercise are the golden standard of treatments prescribed by doctors worldwide. A regular dose of painkillers may be given for a bad back whereas exercise and physical therapy may aid the recovery after an accident. These options, understandably, are a concern for sufferers who are fearful of relying on medication for the rest of their lives. More options must be explored and if the source of pain cannot be found or altered, the focus should be on targeting pain signals from the brain.

So what are the options left on the table and how does one go about inhibiting pain signals? There’s no easy way to do this and real results can only come with dedication and persistence, but sufferers are becoming more and more open to the idea of hypnotherapy as a means to target their pain. After all, the brain is responsible for creating the feeling of pain so surely it would be wise to intercept that signal all together?

Does hypnotherapy work?

There have been countless studies to support the benefits of hypnotherapy. It is a non-invasive yet effective method of targeting the perception of pain and building the inner strength to tackle it on a daily basis. Medics recognise chronic pain as a symptom of something else and prescribe drugs to alleviate the symptoms physically, but the power of therapy and thought can have huge benefits for patients seeking an alternative route.

One 2013 study looked at chronic pain in 350 people working in clothing factories who had work-related musculoskeletal disorders. With a combination of exercise, self-hypnosis and cognitive therapy, the subjects reported less pain after this treatment. [1]

The subjects in question all had some sort of pain related to their neck, legs, arms and shoulders and hypnosis played a part in helping with those symptoms.

The therapies not only showed a significant effect on chronic pain but they even helped to alleviate some mental health issues such as depression.

Another study, published in 2018, found that hypnotherapy was also beneficial to children suffering from chronic pain [2]. Self-hypnosis had a marked effect on the decrease of pain and saw children taking part in more social and educational activities than before. Therapists value hypnotherapy highly as the evidence stacks up in support of better outcomes for patients.

How does it work?

To feel pain is what makes us human, but prolonged pain can have a huge impact on the quality of life for sufferers. Non-pharmacological treatments are always welcomed as they avoid the potential effects that can come with long-term medication.

Hypnotherapy works by helping people to manage their pain in a way that is comfortable for them. Therapy can either be given by a therapist or through audio which is accessible online. Using hypnotic suggestion and guided relaxation technique, these methods help dampen neural activity so that the individual can cope better with their pain. Stress control is also an important part of hypnotherapy as it plays a huge part in aggravating and accentuating pain.

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By learning to reduce and control stress, the individual can respond better to triggers that enhance the issue.

Will it work for me?

Many people suffering with chronic pain may have already exhausted most, if not all, of their options. Hypnotherapy is widely regarded as an effective tool for pain management and is something regularly praised and discussed in the media. For those who may be sceptical, it’s important to remember how powerful the brain is. Although pain is very much a physical sensation, targeting the issue through a new way of thinking can help people with their coping mechanisms.

Hypnosis has been practiced since the 1800s for the management of pain. In the last 20 years, there has been extensive research into the benefits it has on short and long-term pain. [3]

Man's back with illustration of red and inflamed spinal cord

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  1. Montgomery GH, DuHamel KN, Redd WH. A meta-analysis of hypnotically induced analgesia: How effective is hypnosis? International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 2000;48(2):138-153.

  2. Jensen MP, Patterson DR. Hypnotic approaches for chronic pain management: clinical implications of recent research findings. American Psychologist. 2014;69(2):167-177.

  3. Elkins GR, Barabasz AF, Council JR, Spiegel D. Advancing research and practice: The revised APA division 30 definition of hypnosis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 2015;63(1):1-9.

  4. Liossi C, White P, Hatira P. Randomized clinical trial of local anesthetic versus a combination of local anesthetic with self-hypnosis in the management of pediatric procedure-related pain. Health Psychology. 2006;25(3):307-315.

  5. Tan G, Rintala DH, Jensen MP, et al. A randomized controlled trial of hypnosis compared with biofeedback for adults with chronic low back pain. European Journal of Pain. 2015;19(2):271-280.

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