Overview: Hypnosis for pain management provides a tool for managing pain perceptions. Research has shown that hypnosis to be an effective tool for reducing pain.
Chronic pain has been referred to as a the world’s silent epidemic. In fact, you might be shocked at how widespread it is.
According to the CDC, as many as 50 million American adults have experienced pain lasting more than 24 hours, and according to the NIH, chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.
In the UK, the numbers are similar. Two-fifths of UK adults experience chronic pain.
How do you treat chronic pain? Well, drugs have traditionally been the most commonly prescribed treatment option. Yet, more and more people are asking:
Is there are a drug-free alternative that can provide immediate and lasting pain relief?
Hypnosis is an effective solution.
A compelling body of evidence has proven time and again hypnosis can numb, reduce pain, or even eliminate chronic pain completely.
Even the American Psychological Association says that hypnosis is a likely option for chronic pain sufferers. In fact, one meta-analysis cited by the APA showed that across 18 studies an average of 75% of participants experienced “substantial relief” for their symptoms through hypnotherapy.
Why Hypnosis Works for Pain Management
Let’s say you suffered a paper cut. The physical sensation at the finger would send that message up to your brain. “Hey, we think there’s problem down here.”
Your brain would then instantaneously begin processing that sensory information – cross-referencing it against all your past experiences with paper cuts, your attitudes and beliefs – and BAM, you feel “pain” at the finger.
But here’s the thing: The physical sensation of “pain” doesn’t occur because of the damaged tissue on your fingertip. The feeling is created in the brain. Your finger doesn’t actually feel “pain.”
Instead, it’s that complex neural network first sending the message that something’s not right, and then projecting the “pain” back down.
In other words, pain is a construct of the brain.
When the brain receives messages about potential problems (whether a paper cut, a broken bone, etc.) it processes all of the information we have, and creates the sensation of pain. All of our attitudes, beliefs and expectations about what we will feel affect the physical sensation of pain. If we expect it to hurt a lot, the intensity will increase.
This point was brilliantly illustrated by pain researcher Lorimer Moseley in his fascinating TED Talk on pain:
Moseley noted a study in which participants were asked to wear a device that they were told would cause a headache as the intensity of the machine increased. The participants could see the intensity knob being turned up. The thing was: The machine wasn’t causing any pain, and delivered no stimulus.
Even so, participants reported feeling the most intense pain when the intensity knob was turned all the way up. They expected pain to be greatest at the highest intensity, and therefore, imagined the pain.
And that’s why hypnosis can be such a powerful pain reliever.
Hypnosis empowers us to reframe our thoughts and expectations about pain. Thusly, we can use hypnosis to reprogram how the mind responds to the “signal,” i.e. to have different expectations, to distract us from these sensations, to reframe them in a more positive light, or to completely numb of reduce the sensation.
Using Hypnosis to Reframe Pain
The mind is stubborn. We’ve built and reinforced our beliefs, attitudes and expectations over a lifetime. And that’s true about how the mind thinks about pain.
When we stub a toe, we have expectations about how bad it will hurt, attitudes about how we should feel, and believe we will feel pain. Hypnosis works by unlocking and releasing some of those preconceived notions and allows us to work directly with the subconscious mind – the part of the brain that controls the pain response. Through hypnosis, we can provide it with new and better ways of responding to pain.
For example, a chronic pain sufferer expects pain to persist and has an attitude that it won’t go away. This anxiety, in turn, activates the pain response. Those signals fire more regularly, and the pain persists. Hypnosis can help the chronic pain sufferer to first recognize this unconscious response and then alter the unconscious response to reduce the feeling of pain.
Relaxation and Perceptual Alteration
Hypnosis helps chronic pain sufferers in two ways: Relaxation and perceptual alteration. First, by going into a hypnotic trance, the body relaxes. This greatly reduces muscle tension – a common pain intensifier.
Once we’re in a relaxed state, hypnotic suggestions can help us to alter our perception of the pain sensation. Hypnotherapists use many techniques to alter perception. But in particular, four of the most common techniques include: Distraction, reframing, numbing and dissociation.
Hypnosis allows us to immediately alter our mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and reduce pain intensity. We’re able to do this in a few ways. Using hypnosis for pain management, we can help the mind think differently (or not at all) about the pain we feel, and there are four general ways we can do it.
Have you ever been so deep into a thought that you forget your freeway exit? Or you accidently cut your finger while chopping onions. In the moment, we’re often so distracted with stopping the bleeding – we forget how much it hurts. The pain comes after we’ve wrapped it with a paper towel.
Using self-hypnosis, we can train the mind to distract itself from the intensity of pain. We might suggest that the subconscious thinks of a pain-free time in our lives, or thinks about another pain-free part of the body. As a result, we can’t hyper-focus on the pain and how intense it is – which is a powerful method for helping to reduce pain.
Distraction can be effective for short-term and immediate pain relief.
When we use reframing, we feed the subconscious with suggestions about how to perceive pain. For example, many chronic pain sufferers describe their pain as a “burning” feeling. Using self-hypnosis, we can begin to alter this description – from burning, to a feeling of warmth, and ultimately, to a cool sensation.
Often, for labor pain, a hypnotherapist might suggest to the subconscious that the feeling isn’t pain to discomfort, or pressure. Some reframing techniques ask the mind to think differently about the pain in a more abstract way, i.e. not that it has control over our lives, but that it is something that happens in the background that we tune into, for example.
Reframing works well long-term, as it may take multiple sessions to alter how the subconscious perceives and responds to pain. But over time, it can be a very helpful tool for reducing intense pain.
When we guide ourselves into a deep trance, we can begin to work with sensory information. For example, a common hypnotherapy technique might require you to imagine your hand in ice-cold water. We can take that further and further, until, in your trance state, you perceive that your hand is actually numb.
Once this happens, you might visualize that numbness moving to where you feel pain. This technique – although advanced – does help to dull or numb the pain entirely. But it requires the right script, and can take time to master.
Finally, we have dissociation. With dissociation, we ask ourselves to separate the pain or ourselves from the body. We visualize ourselves across the room, watching ourselves. Or visualize the area of our low back that’s in pain, as floating behind ourselves.
It sounds abstract, but just try it for a moment. Imagine you’re sitting across the room, watching yourself reading this.
Did you notice a difference? Did you feel calmer or more grounded? Where you able to break your focus from your pain?
Dissociation can be a helpful tool, but like numbing, it takes time to master.
But over time, you’ll become proficient in the technique, and you can begin to use it – not just for pain – but when you feel anxiety, stress, when you feel a lack of motivation. The technique can instantly calm the mind.
All of these techniques have one thing in common: They allow us to process pain differently.
When that signal shoots up to the brain, these techniques help to reprogram the natural, automatic response, and we’re able to reduce, numb, or experience pain in a different, more helpful way.
Does Hypnosis Work for Pain Management?
Hypnosis for pain management might be one of the most researched areas of the field. High-quality scientific testing and trials have been performed for all types of pain hypnosis: Back pain hypnotherapy, hypno-anesthesia for surgery, chronic pain hypnosis.
The research into hypnotherapy is compelling.
Numerous studies have shown a significant reduction of pain for participants who use hypnotherapy. Up to 75% in many trials show significant pain reduction using hypnosis.
Here is a sampling of hypnosis for a variety of different areas of chronic and acute pain:
A 2016 review of research founded that in a majority of studies hypnosis was shown to reduce procedural pain, and that hypnotic anesthetic (similar to what Gibson claimed to have used) was effective for minor procedures. Similarly, hypnosis has been shown to reduce bleeding and improve wound healing post-surgery, leading to faster recovery.
Another study, published in the journal Neurosurgery looked at how hypnosedation could help during awake brain procedures. The results: Hypnosis helped to reduce the impact of unpleasant parts of the surgery, help patients remain calm, and pain was reduced.
Another recent study looked at using hypnosis for pain relief, following surgical procedures. The findings: Just a 15-minute hypnosis session resulted in a decrease in pain similar to what you’d expect from an opioid. Patients reported a 29-percent reduction in pain.
Chronic back pain is one of the most non-surgical causes of long-lasting pain, and it’s a No. 1 reason for disability. Researchers have found a positive relationship between hypnosis and a reduction in back pain. A 2015 study examined how hypnosis could help veterans with back pain reduce pain intensity.
The results: Hypnosis significantly helped improve quality of life and reduce pain intensity. In fact, more than 50% of participants reported meaningful pain reduction that lasted 6+ months.
A 1983 study also found that self-hypnosis could improve pain intensity, help improve sleep, and result in less problematic medication use following treatment.
Cancer / Chemotherapy Pain
Ongoing cancer treatment often results in recurring and lasting pain, and treatment procedures themselves can be highly painful. Research has looked at both aspects: Pain caused by individual treatments, as well as ongoing and recurring pain.
In 1983, David Spiegel, a preeminent hypnotherapy researcher, examined how hypnosis could help breast cancer patients manage pain caused by treatment. Over the course of a year, patients who received self-hypnosis training reported significant reductions in pain and suffering, (although the duration and frequency of episodes didn’t change). Spiegel’s research suggest hypnosis can be a powerful tool for pain management during cancer treatments.
Similarly, many individual treatments cause patient distress, anxiety and pain. A 1982 study examined if hypnosis prior to these treatments could help to reduce pain and anxiety. During bone marrow and lumbar puncture procedures, participants who utilized hypnosis reported significantly less pain.
In 2002, researchers conducted a study looking at the effect of three interventions of osteoarthritic pain: Hypnosis, relaxation and no treatment. Participants who received hypnosis – 8 weekly hypnosis sessions – reported long-lasting and significant reduction in pain, even at the 4- and 6-month mark. Hypnosis was as effective as relaxation, which could suggest that a program of hypnosis with relaxation techniques could be a powerful option for arthritic pain.
Birth and Labor Pain
Hypnosis for labor pain offers two benefits. It can help reduce the intensity of pain during labor, and it can reduce the need for narcotics and analgesics for pain relief during labor. A 2004 systematic review looked at roughly 20 studies looking, finding that hypnosis helped to reduce pain intensity, as well as reduce opioid and analgesic use for relief.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Utah looked at how hypnosis could reduce pain in the short-term. The participants in the study had come to the hospital reporting “intolerable pain” and difficulty controlling pain. The researchers then prescribed hypnosis to one group, as well as mindfulness and pain coping strategies to others.
In the hypnosis group, 29 percent experienced immediate pain reduction (as well as a decreased desire for opioid medication). In other words, hypnosis was as effective at reducing pain as a small dose of a narcotic painkiller.
How to Practice Hypnosis for Pain Management
Some of the benefits you will feel from a hypnosis session include:
- A sense of calm and clarity in the mind
- Feeling your mood elevated
- A reduction in pain
- Reduced anxiety and stress
Fortunately, you can practice hypnotherapy for pain management at home. Follow these tips:
- Find a spot and time: Find a quiet corner of your home with a comfortable chair. Dim the lights. This is your hypnosis corner. Also, be sure you find a time each day, during which you will practice self-hypnosis.
- Start Slowly: You’ll find as you progress that you enjoy staying a deep trance. But early on, try it in smaller bits. This will help you stay consistent and prevent you from getting overwhelmed.
- Use a Good Script: Self-hypnosis requires you to follow a script or pain hypnosis recording. This will show you how to relax, how to tune your breathing, and ultimately, what your suggestions will be. Find scripts from practicing hypnotherapists, or reputable hypnosis organizations.
- Record Your Progress: You might very well experience gradual changes in how you perceive pain. Keep a notebook handy. Write how you feel before and after, and any changes you experience.
Get Started with Hypnosis Today
You can reduce your pain and feel relief. And you can do it right now!
Start your journey with self-hypnosis with Grace Space. We offer a number of tools to help you try hypnosis right now, in the comfort of your own home.
- Hypnosis App – Our app features a variety of hypnosis recordings you can follow at home.
- Hypnotherapy Books – Hypnosis books teach you techniques, visualizations, and affirmations you can use to practice self-hypnosis.
- One-on-One Hypnotherapy – Working with a certified hypnotherapist online or in-person offers the personalize your experiences.
- Hypnosis Guides – Learn more about hypnosis for personal development and wellness. Read our latest guides on hypnosis for anxiety, stress reduction, confidence and more.