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Is Pain in the Brain?

Clinical studies are not always the most stimulating of reads I’ll grant you, but bear with me for a moment while I share a few titbits from a study published recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine on the subject of what happens in the brain when we’re in pain. Is pain in the brain?

Still with me? OK… so the study focused on Mind-body therapies and their effect on reducing acute pain in hospital patients. The study is the first of its kind to compare the effects of mindfulness and hypnosis on acute pain in a hospital setting and

over one year.

The longitudinal study (research that involves looking at variables over an extended period) involved 244 participants who were patients at the University of Utah Hospital and who were experiencing unmanageable pain as a result of illness, disease or surgical procedures.

Patients were randomly assigned to receive a brief, scripted session in one of three interventions: mindfulness, hypnotic suggestion or pain-coping education.

After participating in a single 15-minute session of one of these mind-body therapies, patients reported an immediate decrease in pain levels similar to what one might expect from an opioid painkiller.

While all three types of intervention reduced patients’ anxiety and increased their feelings of relaxation, patients who participated in the hypnotic suggestion experienced a 29 per cent reduction in pain, and patients who participated in the mindfulness intervention experienced a 23 per cent reduction in pain. By comparison, those who participated in the pain-coping intervention experienced a 9 per cent reduction.

Eric Garland, lead author of the study and director of the University of Utah Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development said, “This clinically significant level of pain relief is roughly equivalent to the pain relief produced by 5 milligrams of oxycodone.”

Makes for interesting reading, doesn’t it?

A clear case for mind over matter and how pain and the brain work and how it’s capable of producing its own organic, naturally occurring painkillers – more commonly known as endorphins.

Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain and act similarly to drugs such as morphine and codeine. In contrast to opiate drugs, activation of the opiate receptors by the body’s endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence.

Hypnotherapy for pain treatment focuses on training the brain to release these natural painkillers which can produce light anaesthesia (the blockage of pain) or analgesia (the relief of pain)

Hypnoanalgesia is commonly used for Hypnobirthing – helping women to experience a calm, controlled and more natural childbirth but it can be used for the control or management of chronic pain such as arthritis and IBS.

Hypnosis to cause a state of complete anaesthesia is used routinely in many countries around the world for dental work, and minor and also major surgery. The world’s first deep brain surgery using hypnosis instead of anaesthetic was performed in Germany in 2017. However, to produce this level of pain control it would be necessary to complete an intense course of hypnotherapy using daily practice and one-to-one therapy sessions over a 6-12 week period before surgery and may not work for everyone.

Stress and anxiety are common side effects of pain and can even increase the sensation of pain. The way the mind responds to pain also links to the perception of physical sensations. Hypnotherapy helps reduce stress and change the thought patterns related to pain and can therefore make a huge difference in pain perception.

Perhaps you or someone you know would like to use the power of the mind to reduce or relieve chronic pain – if so, get in touch today.


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