Medically, pain falls into one of two classes — acute pain pain or chronic pain.
Acute pain, also known as short-term pain, normally comes about as the result of a temporary illness or an accident. In such cases a doctor makes a medical diagnosis and recommends solutions to minimizing the pain — typically through the prescription of pain killers.
Chronic pain, also referred to as long-term pain, is usually a more complex problem. This type of pain is often the consequence of a medical condition, or there might not be an obvious cause. As a result, treatment of chronic pain can be significantly more complicated than treatment of acute pain.
There are numerous causes of chronic pain, such as conditions including fibromyalgia, migraines and arthritis. Situations of this nature call for medical involvement and a serious pain management strategy. For many people, complementary approaches that include hypnotherapy are in order.
- History of Hypnosis for Pain Management
- How Hypnosis Helps Minimize Pain
- Illnesses and Conditions Treated With Hypnosis
- Practicing Self-Hypnosis to Treat Chronic Pain
History of Hypnosis for Pain Management
Hypnosis as a means to reduce pain is popular today, but it isn’t a modern pain-reducing technique.
Hypnosis for Pain Management In the 19th Century
Well before the discovery of anesthetics and painkillers, hypnosis was successfully used to greatly reduce pain and to carry out major surgery. It was found that hypno-anaesthesia (hypnosis as a form of anesthesia) enhances and triggers the immune system. This is in contrast to modern-day chemical anesthesia, which actually suppresses the immune system and also increases blood loss during surgery.
In the 1840’s, Dr. James Esdaile, a Scottish surgeon working in India, explored the use of hypnosis to reduce pain. Esdaile carried out over 200 near-painless, significant operations, using only hypnosis as a mental anesthesia. Patients reported little to no pain, and postoperative deaths were reduced to just three percent — a figure significantly lower than other surgeons were achieving at the time.
By the mid-19th century hypnosis as an anesthesia was being employed by surgeons in many British hospitals. However, with the discovery of chloroform not long after, hypnosis as an anesthesia fell out of favor and essentially disappeared from use. Hypnosis took time — sometimes hours — to get a patent into a pain-free state, whereas chloroform took effect almost instantly. While chloroform was a break-through discovery that proved of great benefit to patients, the positive effects of hypnotic anesthesia — low risk of infection, fast wound healing time, and low bleeding — were not present in the use of chloroform. Soon, these benefits of hypnosis were generally forgotten by both the medical community and patients.
Hypnotherapy for Pain Management Today
For many years opioids have been the primary treatment for chronic pain. While often effective, they come with a significant downside — addiction. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) reports that in 2017 approximately 1.6 million people in the U.S. struggled with substance abuse disorders directly related to prescription opioid pain relievers.
The medical community, and the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain, are finally coming to the realization that opiates may be a case of “the cure being worse than the disease.” They’re recognizing that the body and mind are tightly related, and that working with the mind in the form of hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis is a viable means to treating issues with the body — including the management of both chronic and acute pain.
How Hypnosis Helps Minimize Pain
When under hypnosis a person focuses on relaxation and liberates themself of distracting thoughts. When this happens the conscious part of the mind is temporarily tuned out and left open to the power of suggestion. At this stage a hypnotherapist will make suggestions to encourage pain relief. A hypnotherapist may additionally introduce post-hypnotic suggestions that allow the patient to conduct self-hypnosis one their own, at a later time.
A misconception about hypnosis for pain management is that a hypnotherapist will attempt to convince a person that the pain doesn’t exist. What the hypnotherapist actually does is attempt to manage, or minimize, the anxieties and fears a person has related to pain. This reduces stress and calms the nervous system, helping it to become less reactive to pain.
Hypnosis for pain management also refocuses the mind from the pain to something much more pleasurable. For instance, a person under hypnosis may be asked to imagine that they’re someplace relaxing and enjoyable, such as the beach. Visualization techniques — having the person associate positive imagery with their chosen place of comfort — further enhances the relaxed feelings. In the example of imagining a day at the beach the person might fill in details such as what the waves on ocean look like, the feeling of walking on sand, and the soothing warmth of the sun. This positive imagery helps the person be distracted from their pain.
Illnesses and Conditions Treated With Hypnosis
Treatments that recognize the mind-body association are frequently proposed for people dealing with chronic (long-term) pain. Anxiety and stress are frequent side effects of pain, and can also then contribute to making the perception of pain even worse. This is because the way in which the mind responds to pain is linked to the perception of physical sensations.
Several illnesses and conditions are well recognized for causing pain — some of the most common are listed below. In all cases anxiety and stress can make the perception of pain worse. Because hypnosis — including self-hypnosis — is a powerful treatment for stress and anxiety, hypnosis can play a key role in managing the pain that accompanies these health issues.
Arthritis is an ailment that produces inflammation and joint stiffening. Depending on the severeness, the pain may be moderate to extreme, making everyday tasks difficult to cope with.
The majority of people diagnosed with cancer experience pain at some time. This can be because of the tumours themselves, or the treatment (such as chemotherapy).
Migraines and Cluster Headaches
Migraines are an especially painful type of headache — they can cause sensitivity to light and sound, and even vomiting. Cluster headaches, as the name implies, have a tendency to take place in clusters, causing a person to experience significant pain. Cluster headaches bring about sharp, rapid pain in the head, and continue anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours. Both types of headaches are often prescribed powerful medications that can be accompanied by several side effects. For sufferers of intense headaches hypnosis is becoming a popular and acceptable alternative to prescription drugs.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
CRPS usually evolves following a physical injury. The pain that follows the injury can be near continuous, and is often disproportionate to the injury itself.
Endometriosis is a gynecological condition that develops when cells similar to those found in the womb form in other areas of the body. For many women the condition is pain-free. Unfortunately, a majority of women have to deal with severe period pain, pelvic pain, and pain and discomfort during or after sex.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by prevalent musculoskeletal pain. The pain is often accompanied by memory, sleep, mood and fatigue issues. It’s a particularly painful disease that has no single, easily identifiable cause. Infection or arthritis raises a person’s chances of acquiring fibromyalgia, as does experiencing physical or emotional abuse. Researchers think fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by impacting the way the brain processes pain signals, which makes it a perfect candidate for treatment with hypnosis.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
MS is a disease that affects the spinal cord, nerves and brain. About half of people suffering with multiple sclerosis experience some pain. This pain can be either musculoskeletal as a result of pressure on joints and muscles, or neuropathic, where a stabbing or burning sensation if felt due to damaged nerve fibers.
Sciatica and Back Pain
Sciatica takes place when the sciatic nerve is inflamed or irritated by the back. Most commonly this occurs after experiencing a slipped disc. The result is aching down the legs. Other types of back pain can be brought on by a physical injury (often to the lower back), or even by the overuse of back muscles. Back pain can be long-lasting and particularly difficult to treat, so hypnosis is often employed with other treatment methods to help provide pain relief.
Practicing Self-Hypnosis to Treat Chronic Pain
Hypnosis isn’t about convincing you that you don’t feel pain; it’s about helping you manage the fear and anxiety you feel related to that pain. It relaxes you, and it redirects your attention from the sensation of pain. Basically, hypnosis means learning to use your subconscious mind in a beneficial way. Often people use the services of a hypnosis practitioner to provide counsel on pain management. However, a person doesn’t necessarily have to consult with a professional hypnotherapist for pain management — anyone can learn the art of hypnosis.
The attractiveness and power of hypnosis is that a person doesn’t have to work with a hypnosis practitioner once they’ve learned how to self-hypnotize. In short, learning the art of self-hypnosis consists of practice — locating a quiet place, training oneself in deep breathing techniques, and establishing a trigger — a word or phrase repeated over and over. A person can then choose to go deep anytime. The following are several methods you can employ to begin hypnotizing yourself in order to combat pain.
The best way to learn and master self-hypnosis is to obtain self-hypnosis audios. Self-hypnosis recordings are typically fairly short — usually less than 15 minutes in length. This gives a person an easy and convenient way to listen to a recording one or more times during the course of a daily routine. As with most things in life, repetition and daily practice are a key part of achieving a desired goal. Keep in mind that the more times you listen to a self-hypnosis audio recording, the more the message naturally becomes part of your everyday life.
Imaging and a Healing White Light
A powerful tool in hypnosis, including self-hypnosis, is imagery — conjuring up positive images to replace the negative perceptions of pain. Think of, and focus on, the area of your body where you are experiencing pain. Now imagine a healing white light encompassing that area. Imagine the light to be soothing and warm — as comforting as the sunlight that falls on you on a warm summer day spent at the beach. Focus that light on the troubling area until you feel the pain subside even just a little bit. With practice through repetition the thought of this white light will provide a welcoming relief from the pain. If you download and use self-hypnosis recordings you’ll find that understanding and using imagery is an important part of the audios.
Create Your Own Hypnotic Mantra
From meditation many people are familiar with the concept of a mantra — a sound, word or phrase that’s repeated to support concentration during meditation. Hypnosis is similar to meditation in that both rely on a person’s own mind power to positively affect that person’s body. So like meditation, hypnosis includes the idea of a mantra. You’ll think of a short, easy-to-remember phrase that you can associate with the management of your pain. There is no one “correct” mantra — your mantra will be a phrase that makes sense to you. One example could be something like: “Three deep breaths, and I feel happy and healthy.”
Listen to Your Body
Self-hypnosis is extremely helpful in identifying and isolating areas of pain in the body. One of many aggravating aspects of chronic pain is that it can be challenging to recognize precisely where the pain originates. In a state of hypnosis you will be sitting or lying in a quiet environment, with your eyes closed and calmly breathing. These are perfect circumstances to keenly focus on each area of your body. You can take an inventory of how different areas of your body are, or are not, experiencing pain. Is there tension in your neck? How does your lower back feel? By paying attention to your body while in a relaxed state, you can better minimize pain and better heal yourself.
A person living with chronic pain spends much of their time focusing on their pain — pain is difficult to ignore. One reason hypnosis is helpful in pain management is because the mind cannot fully focus on two different things at once. So, if your mind is focused on the imagery of a warm, sunny day at the beach, with the details of the sand under your feet, the smell of the ocean, and the sound of the crashing of waves, the mind can’t simultaneously focus, or be fully aware of, any pain you’re experiencing at that moment.
Picture Positive Outcomes
Self-hypnosis won’t actually heal the source of a chronic condition — it can’t eliminate cancerous tumors or cure muscular dystrophy. It can, though, carry your mind to an optimistic, positive, hopeful place. If you train yourself to believe in the best potential outcome each day, then there is a very good chance that you will experience less pain each day!