The use of hypnosis in Pain Management

Pain can be a complicated issue and we all experience pain differently. It can be difficult to treat and conventional approaches using painkillers are not always effective. Of course, the starting point will be to see your GP and indeed chronic pain is one of the most common reasons for seeking medical attention. Yet it often persists, despite treatment with painkillers and physical therapy. It is also the most common reason for the use of complementary therapies (Astin, 1998; Eisenberg et al., 1993), such as hypnotherapy.

The last twenty years has seen a growth in research and evidence to support the use of hypnosis in the management of chronic pain.


Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists for more than six months and includes, for example, lower back pain and osteoarthritis. Any type of chronic pain can lead to considerable suffering, physical limitations and emotional distress. According to research by Fayaz et al., (2015), chronic pain affects between one third and one half (33% - 50%) of the UK population – corresponding to just under 28 million adults - and this figure is likely to increase due to our ageing population.

Research by Elkins et al., (2007) reviewed a number of clinical trials of hypnosis in the management of chronic pain relating to:

  • Cancer Pain
  • Low-back Pain
  • Arthritis Pain
  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Temporomandibular Pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Disability-Related Pain
  • Mixed Chronic-Pain Problems

Their review concluded that hypnosis for chronic pain, results in “significant reductions in perceived pain” and the beneficial results can last for several months. They also found that the use of hypnosis in treating chronic pain can be more effective in some cases than other treatments, such as physical therapy.

In addition to relieving the perception of pain itself, hypnosis can help with improving independence and providing support in coping with the emotional implications of chronic pain. Often, stress and anxiety play a major role in exacerbating pain and in these cases the benefits of hypnosis should not be underestimated – it’s an effective tool for relaxation generally but also, in cases of chronic pain, hypnosis can be used to relax the nervous system and help it become less reactive to pain.

Abstract summary:

Review of Elkins Jensen and Patterson (2007): Hypnotherapy for the Management of Chronic Pain Intl Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis; 55(3): 275-287. Doi: 10.1080/00207140701338621.

Thirteen studies reviewed (excl studies of headaches). Findings indicate hypnosis interventions consistently produce significant decreases in pain associated with variety of chronic pain problems.

Hypnosis was also found to be more effective than non-hypnotic interventions incl. attention, physical therapy and education.

Most hypnosis interventions include instruction in self-hypnosis.

Chronic pain = pain that persists > 6 months and leads to considerable suffering, physical limitations and emotional distress.

According to Fayaz et al (2016), Chronic pain (incl. lower back pain and osteoarthritis) affects between one third and one half (33% - 50%) of the UK population – corresponding to just under 28 million adults (based on data from published studies). This figure is likely to increase due to our ageing population.

(Fayaz A, Croft P, Langford RM, et al. Prevalence of chronic pain in the UK: a systematic review and meta-analysis of population studies. BMJ Open 2016;6:e010364. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015- 010364)


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