If you have back pain, hypnosis might help. Sometimes referred to as hypnotherapy, this mind-body technique involves reaching a trance-like state of mind marked by deep relaxation and openness to suggestion. It’s thought that hypnosis might help back pain sufferers to gain greater control over their condition.
Also used to help people quit smoking, ease anxiety, improve sleep, and support weight loss, hypnosis is typically induced a practitioner.
However, many people also use self-hypnosis techniques to treat back pain and other conditions.
Why Is Hypnosis Sometimes Used for Back Pain Relief?
Scientists aren’t sure how hypnosis might work to alleviate back pain. However, some preliminary studies have shown that changes in central nervous system activity during hypnosis may reduce your sensitivity to pain.
Known as “hypnotic analgesia,” this hypnosis-induced decrease in pain sensitivity has been associated with improvement in pain symptoms and reduced need for pain medication in preliminary research.
Proponents of hypnosis suggest that the technique can also benefit back pain sufferers by encouraging them to increase healthy behaviors (such as getting regular exercise, which is considered essential for managing back pain). It’s also thought that undergoing hypnosis can improve patients’ ability to cope with their pain.
In addition, hypnosis is said to address chronic stress and other underlying emotional issues thought to contribute to back pain.
The Science Behind Hypnosis & Back Pain
Although few studies have evaluated the effectiveness of hypnosis in relieving back pain, there’s some evidence that this technique may be beneficial for back pain sufferers.
he available clinical trials on hypnosis and back pain include a pilot study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis in 2010. In the study, researchers observed that four sessions of self-hypnosis (combined with psycho-education) significantly reduced pain intensity in people with chronic low back pain.
In a more recent study, published in the European Journal of Pain in 2015, researchers also found that self-hypnosis may be helpful in taming back pain. For the study, 100 veterans with chronic low back pain were split into four groups, each involving a different type of treatment. The treatments included eight sessions of self-hypnosis carried out with audio recordings, eight sessions of self-hypnosis performed without audio recordings, two sessions of self-hypnosis, and eight sessions of biofeedback.
Compared to participants treated with biofeedback, members of the hypnosis groups reported a significantly greater reduction in pain intensity. What’s more, subjects in all four study groups reported significant improvements in sleep quality.
Hypnosis is generally considered safe when administered by a qualified medical practitioner.
Since back pain may signal an underlying problem (such as a muscle strain, ruptured disk, or arthritis), it’s important to see a doctor if you’re experiencing chronic back pain. Self-treating chronic back pain with hypnosis and avoiding or delaying standard care may have harmful consequences.
Using Hypnosis for Back Pain Relief
Back pain is often very difficult to treat, and many patients find that using a combination of therapies is most effective in relieving pain. Other alternative therapies found to fight back pain include acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, and yoga.
Because back pain and chronic stress are closely linked, practicing stress management techniques such as meditation may also be helpful in soothing back pain.
Furthermore, a number of natural remedies show promise for back pain relief. These remedies include capsaicin cream, devil’s claw, and white willow bark.
If you’re interested in using hypnosis (or any other type of alternative therapy) to treat back pain, consult your doctor for help in finding a qualified practitioner.
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Tan G1, Fukui T, Jensen MP, Thornby J, Waldman KL. “Hypnosis treatment for chronic low back pain.” Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2010 Jan;58(1):53-68.
Tan G1, Rintala DH, Jensen MP, Fukui T, Smith D, Williams W. “A randomized controlled trial of hypnosis compared with biofeedback for adults with chronic low back pain.” Eur J Pain. 2015 Feb;19(2):271-80.