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Chronic Pain: Using Hypnotherapy to Redirect Neural Pathways



Pain affects up to 1.5 billion adults worldwide (Yaqub, 2015) and drives a notable economic burden. Pain-related health care and lost productivity incur annual costs of up to $635 billion in the U.S. alone (Gaskin and Richard, 2012), greater than that of heart disease, cancer or diabetes. Given the well-known issues with opioids and other pharmaceutical interventions there is a growing need to better understand pain and ways to manage it’s impact.


Physical pain in a scary proposition for many of us. It seems to eventually find a way into our lives, no matter how careful and healthy we try to be. Sometimes accidents happen and even if you’ve been “living clean” for many years, pain will eventually start to introduce itself just as a result of an aging body. Pain is experiential and can differ by individual, but there is no doubt it can shape one's identity, worldview and relationships.


We’re well aware of emotional pain, especially as it relates to mental health, but the lesser known connection is with physical pain and this is worthy of further exploration. Pain is a protective mechanism and keeps us from additional harm when injury occurs. It can also be a warning system for disease or other problems, so pain is beneficial most of the time. But what if pain decides to stick around? This can quickly deteriorate quality of life if not addressed.



Pain can have both short and long-term occurrence. Short-term pain is simply based on the protective system of the body when injury presents itself. The pain message tells us we need to stop, assess and protect so the body doesn’t acquire further injury and also has the ability to start the healing process. But long-term or chronic pain can result well past the point of an healed injury. This is because the brain is constantly building neural pathways. Neural pathways are networks the brain and body use to learn and remember. A good examples is learning to ride a bike. As the brain and body learn the process, neural pathways are developed specifically for this activity. Once those pathways are constructed they are repeatedly used when you hop on a bike. It’s the reason we don’t “forget” to how to ride. Amazingly, the brain can also create neural pathways for pain. Once the network is established pain signals can continue to be sent along the network even after an injury has healed, establishing a cycle of chronic pain.


Unprocessed (repressed and/or suppressed) emotion can initiate a physical response in the body, as well. This emotional energy may present itself as migraines, lower back pain, abdominal pain or rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few. There can even be pain experienced throughout the entire body (often diagnosed as fibromyalgia). All of these chronic pain manifestations are a result of neural pathways being established from stored emotion. The fortunate reality, however, is that chronic pain can also be “unlearned”. 


There are several ways to go about this. You can tell yourself (your brain and body) that you’re “okay” and “safe”. It also helps to tell your body you love it. These are the types of positive affirmations we don’t tell our physical body nearly enough. When you stop to think about it, our bodies do some amazing things and serve us well. We all too often take this for granted. Somatic tracking is another effective method to explore. Over time, your brain can reduce the pain messages as it learns your body is not in danger and receives a steady diet of positive reinforcement. Of course, hypnotherapy can be very helpful in this relearning process as the subconscious mind runs the physical body. Hypnosis allows the client to make adjustments in the subconscious mind by providing a platform for direct communication with the subconscious. 


Hypnosis can assist in alleviating pain and sometimes stopping it, altogether. Most studies look at the use of hypnosis as a mechanism for delivering suggestions for pain to reduce or stop. In these cases pain reduction can show an improvement as high as 40% in some patients. But this is not utilizing hypnosis in the most effective way. Because the studies focus on suggestions of reduced pain, it results in a bias on the patients responsiveness to hypnosis and the their ability to accept external suggestions in the clinical setting. 


Using hypnosis in formal hypnotherapy protocols could change outcomes dramatically. The reason is that hypnotherapy doesn’t offer suggestions alone. It actually assists the patient in acquiring the emotional root cause that drives the pain response as a “distraction”. Once the root cause is established, formalized protocols (ie. modified Gestalt) can then address reframing experience, beliefs, behaviors and emotions that are causing the pain, thus giving the highest level of probability in addressing chronic pain completely. This taps into the neuroplasticity of the brain allowing for new (pain free) neural pathways to form. I’ve had personal success with this approach. Given my positive client outcomes, you may find hypnotherapy to be the answer you’ve been looking for to resolve chronic pain and improve your quality of life, long-term.


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