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Hypnosis for Better Pain Relief

by Cheryl Reynolds

Hypnosis has been around for centuries as a safe, effective drug-free alternative in reducing and eliminating chronic pain.

Back in the 1800s, a form of hypnosis called “hypo-anesthesia” was used to perform surgeries such as amputations, tooth extractions, mastectomies and resetting of broken limbs. Since hypnosis is actually a natural anesthesia, they still use hypnosis in conjunction with modern medicine for dental procedures, childbirth and minor procedures to lessen the use of anesthesia.

Beyond surgery, hypnosis can decrease or alleviate chronic pain including back pain, neuropathy, headaches, fibromyalgia, cancer pain, orthopedic pain and much more.

A meta-analysis in 2000 of 18 published studies showed that 75 percent of clinical and experimental participants with different types of pain obtained substantial pain relief from hypnotic techniques. There is a thought that “until the brain registers pain, there is none.” When people have acute pain, their sensory receptors send a message via nerve fibers to the spinal cord and brain to protect the body by increasing our heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate and by flooding in chemicals to decrease the pain. This is all to remind us that something is wrong.

However, when individuals suffer with chronic pain, these pain messages are no longer useful and for some people can become even more sensitive to pain. Ongoing chronic pain can result in cellular memory of the unpleasant sensation and even cause anticipatory pain. Anticipatory pain is a pain reaction created by one’s thoughts that doing a certain task or moving a certain way will cause pain. This not only amplifies the perception of pain, it also heightens anxiety levels. Hypnosis is very helping in reducing anticipatory pain.

Long term pain is exhausting to the mind and body. Pain can also cause cortisol levels (the stress hormone) to stay elevated which can cause detrimental stress changes in the body.

The cycle continues as this can exacerbate discomfort and increase pain.

How each person experiences pain depends on many factors such as the location of the pain, one’s age, emotional state, memories of previous pain along with attitudes towards the pain.

There is no denying that pain is physical, but there is always a psychological element to the experience of pain, and once one’s perception of pain changes, the experience of the way the brain receives the pain message and processes it emotionally also changes.

There are five ways hypnosis decreases pain levels:

  • – We focus our attention away from the pain to a positive mental thought by using guided imagery, metaphors or direct suggestions. Because the mind is in a hypnotic trance, distraction is easily achieved. Positive ‘triggers’ can also be created that can be used anytime to decrease pain levels.

In Biology Today, a study based on high-resolution spinal MRI showed that as people experienced painful levels of heat, mental distractions actually inhibit the response to incoming pain signals. Christian Sprenger of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf reports, “The results demonstrate that this phenomenon is not just a psychological phenomenon, but an active neuronal mechanism reducing the amount of pain signals ascending from the spinal cord.” Basically distraction works.

  • – This is when we take the feeling of pain and change it into something different. There are many ways to reframe; a few examples are changing the pain from a hot burning sensation to a cool liquid sensation or sufferers can use a “dial down” technique, as they decrease the pain to a manageable level.

Try a variation of this at home. Get comfortable, close your eyes, take in a few slow deep breathes. Visualize the pain as a large ball, knot, or any other image that represents the pain. As you count down slowly from 10 to 1, see this ball shrinking; smaller, and smaller…less and less uncomfortable. The ball, which was the size of a grapefruit, could now be the size of a baseball, or even a marble or a pea. Continue this daily, as the more one practices, the stronger the association gets.

Numbing – This creates an anesthesia effect on the painful area. Everyone has fallen asleep on their arm, so knows what numbness feels like. From that association a similar effect is created with “glove anesthesia.” Suggestions are given to create a numbing sensation in the hand and then that sensation is moved or transfered to the area of discomfort to decrease the pain. Past associations for pain control can also be used, like when Novocain is received to numb an area. Once the brain has “felt” the sensation, it can be repeated.

  • – Since hypnosis is a state of relaxed, yet heightened concentration, the imagination becomes more focused and powerful. Guided imagery can be created so one can naturally and safely dissociate from the body; like in a daydream. When we vividly imagine our favorite vacation spot, or travel to distance place, we can find relaxation and comfort. This also incorporates distraction as well.

Mindfulness – This is a way to pay attention on purpose in the present moment. Being more present and aware of one’s body can bring better awareness and understanding of how to relate to pain differently. From that point, the accompanying stress levels, cortisol levels and anticipatory pain and be reduced.

Hypnosis is a complementary practice and in order to give safe hypnosis, it is necessary for hynotherapists to know for certain that the pain is not masking anything serious; therefore, a medical referral from a doctor is necessary.

Pain reduction is most effective when individuals are fully on board and motivated for change. For many sufferers, hypnosis can bring effective pain relief which can drastically improve their quality of life.

Cheryl Reynolds is a registered nurse with more than 25 year’s experience, a spiritual adviser plus she was trained in hypnosis by world renowned Hypnosis Instructor Tom Nicoli, BCH, CI, CPC out of New England Institute of Hypnosis. She is a certified member of the National Guild of Hypnotists, a certified life coach with specialization in burnout, stress reduction and mindfulness. She is also certified in pain management. She can be reached at 401-301-4426 or MindfulLivingHypnosis.com. See ad, page 21.