11 March 2004

Hypnosis and pain



Techniques like relaxation and visualizing a pleasant scene can take the sting out of mild pain, but adding hypnosis to the mix does not make such techniques more effective, according to a new report in Health Psychology.

Leonard S. Milling, Ph.D., of the University of Hartford and colleagues, compared five different behavioral treatments for finger pain delivered under hypnotic and non-hypnotic conditions.

Treatments included imagining a pain-protective glove, relaxing various muscle groups, picturing a warm summer day and reciting statements like: "I'll make the pain less severe when it comes."

While all five treatments lessened the intensity of pain among participants, the hypnotic versions were no better than their non-hypnotic counterparts in reducing pain, even among participants who were highly sensitive to hypnotic suggestions, say the researchers.

The amount of pain relief experienced by all participants, regardless of treatment, was due in part to how much they expected to benefit from the therapy, according to Milling.
Shorter treatments were also just as effective as longer ones, an encouraging sign for their use in pain relief among patients who have a hard time concentrating or who suffer through multiple painful tests and therapies, like burn victims or cancer patients.

Milling and colleagues caution, however, that the study's results may be limited.

"Our results may generalize more readily to acute clinical pain that is mild to moderate in intensity, like a finger stick, and less readily to severe acute pain or to pain that is recurrent or chronic," they say.

That last qualification is pretty important given the large body of well-accepted literature on hypnotic analgesia in chronic pains or cases involving relatively severe acute pains.