Hypnotherapy can help with the management and relief of chronic pain and can sometimes alleviate it altogether. However it is always important to have your pain medically assessed by your GP or pain specialist before considering Hypnotherapy.
Pain, although an unpleasant sensation, is a common part of everyday life, and accompanies many medical conditions. But when you are in pain, it is very normal to want to be rid of it! All pain is real and is a complex interaction
between how the mind is interpreting threat (or pain) sensations and the resulting body response. Hypnotherapy can help in calming the minds response to the unpleasant sensation.
For many people, pain can be very problematic and can affect their lifestyle and their ability to function well. It is estimated that around 20% of the adult population experiences chronic pain on a regular basis. Doctors often describe pain as being ‘acute’ or ‘chronic’. However it may be helpful to think of this in terms of being ‘useful’ pain or ‘non-useful’ pain’.
This occurs when the body’s alarm system alerts your brain to actual or potential danger / damage by sending warning signals. This is a useful message that serves to protect us.
For example: if you touch a very hot surface the body reacts by withdrawing your hand or if you have sprained an ankle the acute pain ensures you don’t put weight through the damaged tissues whilst the body heals itself. So, acute pain is a sign that something is amiss, and something needs to be done about it.
This pain only lasts whilst the problem is there, and the body may need to rest, but will heal
itself in time, given the right circumstances. eg a plaster cast over a broken bone. Some of
the pain is generated by the healing process itself, such as swelling and inflammation.
Pain medication is generally effective in relieving acute pain.
So why do people go on to experience chronic pain?
It is potentially due to what is known as Central sensitisation and an abnormal state of responsiveness of the threat system. This then changes the neurotransmitters which begins to alter the sensory response caused by normal inputs and so increases pain sensitivity.
Pain can be experienced from any part of your body.
Pain signals travel from the area of pain along 1000’s of specialised nerve fibres, through the spinal cord to the brain.
Pain signals are processed in the spinal cord and then in the brain, where it connects with centres associated with anxiety, emotions, sleep, appetite and memory.
Chronic pain can cause a sensitisation response increasing feelings of pain.
Pain is never “just in the mind” or “just in the body” it is a complex interaction of the two.
Chronic pain is persistent pain that has continued for more than 3 months (the time it normally takes the body to heal even the most serious injury).
It can have a huge impact on everyday life. This pain is a useless unhelpful message that carries on after healing has occurred. It is important to know your pain is a real sensation, but does not often indicate damage or injury.
In Chronic Pain - HURT does NOT mean HARM. i.e. pain becomes about how much pain your brain thinks you are in rather than how much you are actually in. This can be where Hypnotherapy can be powerful in retraining how the brain is responding to the “Threat” or pain signal.
Doctors do not yet fully understand the exact reasons why these ‘false’ messages continue, and often no physical cause can be found to explain the pain. This is very frustrating, when you KNOW the pain is real.
Theories around Chronic Pain
So....why does some pain become ‘chronic’?
There are some theories outlined below, but generally speaking it could be said that the nerves carrying the pain messages is where the problem lies, rather than the structure where you actually feel the pain.
The job of the nerves in the body is to pass on messages of all sensations, such as touch, temperature, movement, pain etc.
The nerves are all interconnected and carry messages from all parts of the body to the spinal cord and then up to the brain. (They work a little like a relay team).
Pain is transmitted in the nerves by chemicals, which usually ‘switch off’ when any injury has healed. One theory of chronic pain is that these chemicals continue to be produced.
Or, the nerves themselves can start to transmit excessive messages, or faulty messages such as sending a ‘pain message’ when it should be a ‘light touch’ message. The messages seem ‘louder’ than they should be, or rather like Chinese Whispers, a message which started as a gentle stretch feeling is interpreted as pain by the time it reaches the brain.
The neurotag theory is that all sensations, including pain, are imprinted on our brains, so there is a ‘memory’ pattern.
In the same way that repeating something we have learned eventually makes it easier for us, if we continually push through pain excessively, or react strongly to it by grimacing or squealing, we inadvertently strengthen that ‘pain memory tag’.
The ‘pain gate’ theory says that different factors can affect messages going from parts of the body, up the spinal cord to the brain.
There are several factors which ‘open’ these ‘gates’ and cause the pain to feel more intense –
Some factors that ‘open pain gates’ and thereby increase the intensity of painful sensations are:
Fear – about injuries or about the source of the pain.
Immobility and lack of movement.
Isolation and withdrawing from life.
Tension in the muscles.
Pain watching – focussing on the pain will cause it to hurt more (although a ‘mindful’ body scanning approach can be helpful in re-evaluating pain).
Pain behaviours – sometimes inadvertent messages given out to others, which elicit a sympathetic response can actually increase the experience of pain.
The good news is that there are many things which help to close the pain gate and Hypnotherapy and other strategies I can teach you can have a very positive influence.