Calming evening sunset over the sea to illustrate counselling and hypnotherapy in Plymouth with Carolyn Gillan

Hypnotherapy for chronic pain

Hypnotherapy can help you manage your pain by changing your perception of physical discomfort. For example, it’s possible to dial down pain sensations so they are less noticeable. It’s also possible to substitute unpleasant sensations for more comfortable sensations. It’s even possible to use hypnosis as an analgesia. In fact, hypnosis is sometimes used as an anaesthetic during dental work. And hypnosedation has been reported to be an effective technique for use in brain surgery.

In addition to changing our perception of physical discomfort, hypnotherapy can also help by reducing the stress and negative emotions that often go hand in hand with chronic pain. If you’re suffering with chronic pain you’re likely to have noticed that your pain tends to flare up when you’re under stress. This isn’t unusual. It’s now widely accepted that stress makes pain worse and can even cause it. So reducing your stress and changing the way you respond in stressful situations is key to treating chronic pain.

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain or persistent pain, as it is sometimes called, is often defined as pain that lasts more than 12 weeks and can last for months or even longer. It can occur as a result of an injury or infection, or it may be due to an ongoing medical condition. Sometimes there is no obvious cause for the pain. The most common types of chronic pain include:

  • headaches and migraines
  • backaches
  • joint pain, e.g. neck, shoulders, hips, knees
  • tendonitis, e.g. tennis elbow
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • nerve damage causing pain, burning or tingling sensations, increased sensitivity.

What are the symptoms?

Chronic pain can affect us both physically and emotionally and it can result in symptoms of:

  • mild, moderate or severe pain
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Sleeplessness
  • Changes in behaviour, e.g. avoidance of activities
  • Changes in mood, e.g. depression, anxiety, fear, irritability and stress
  • Disability

How does stress affect pain?

When we feel pain, our body’s built-in stress response takes over and we react without conscious awareness or intention. Our heart rate increases, our blood pressure rises and our muscles tense. We become focused on the danger [the pain] which causes the pain to intensify and our attention to the pain becomes even more focused. We respond to all of this emotionally, perhaps with anger, fear, distress or hopelessness. Before we know it, we are caught in a vicious circle.

Hypnosis can switch on our natural relaxation response which reduces our blood pressure and heart rate and softens muscle tension. It tells our body that the danger has passed, that it’s safe to focus on other more enjoyable things so our mood begins to improve.