Advances in science have taught us many things on how our brains experience pain. One of the most interesting things we have learned is that our brains do not have a “pain center”. They have more of a “pain matrix” because multiple areas of the brain become active when you experience pain. We have also learned that input from outside of the brain can and often does play a role in how we experience pain. People living with chronic pain have often mentioned that stress can and often does increase their pain. Recently, science has been able to observe the direct effects hypnosis has on brain activity and how hypnosis can also affect the areas and structures within the pain matrix.
The pain matrix is made up of the following areas:
- sensory cortex – the area of the brain that is active when we feel sensations
- anterior cingulate cortex – the area of the brain involved with processing information about how the pain makes us feel
- the insula – the area that becomes active when something is perceived to be wrong with the body
- the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that is most likely involved in the meaning we give to our sensations and experience
All these different areas of the brain can influence each other. So for example, when we think that our pain may indicate something is broken or breaking, the pain can increase in intensity, or we can become more worried. This influence allows a new understanding about our brains and can explain how the same level of stimulation can be felt differently by different people. It also explains how hypnosis can also affect our experience of pain.
Controlled clinical trials have shown that hypnosis is consistently “more effective” than having no treatment and is either “more effective” or “as effective” as other pain treatements. This proves that hypnosis has more than just a placebo effect. Hypnosis is not complicated. It is an induction followed by a suggestion or a set of suggestions. The induction focuses one’s attention on a voice, a point of light, or a mark on a wall. This focused attention or awareness has been shown to make people more receptive to suggestions that can change their experience.
In dealing with chronic pain the induction is usually followed by suggestions to feel pain sensations differently, to be less bothered by these pain sensations, to think differently about pain, to be better able to ignore pain or some combination of the above suggestions. Hypnosis sessions usually end with the “suggestion that provided relief” during the session will continue to provide relief beyond the session. Chronic pain requires a variety of modalities for its management. It is not recommended that hypnosis be your sole therapy for treatment, but it can work well in conjunction with a comprehensive pain management program. I have used hypnosis and positive visualization as part of my pain management program. I have found it to be very helpful in assisting me in relaxing, especially when I am using the chi machine.Reference: “Hypnosis for Chronic Pain Management: New Evidence for an Old Treatmet” by Mark P Jensen, PhD