Hypnosis—sometimes called hypnotherapy—may be an effective way to treat chronic back pain. Hypnosis induces a trance-like state. While in a state of hypnosis, you are more receptive to suggestions about how to relate to your back pain. A specially trained therapist uses imagery and suggestions to facilitate the desired result. It is a misconception that individuals lose control of themselves during hypnosis. Instead, hypnotherapy creates a feeling of relaxation and acute awareness. The idea is that, in this state of deep relaxation, the therapist is able to access the subconscious. Accessing the subconscious allows the therapist to help the patient change the patient’s relationship to the pain they are experiencing. As such, hypnosis is being used extensively to treat chronic back pain.


Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 6 months. Sometimes chronic pain is the result of an injury. Other times, chronic pain develops independently from any incident. Chronic pain is usually described as a dull, aching sensation that is always present. Acute pain, on the other hand, is usually sharp and temporary. In the case of chronic back pain, nerves are normally responding to back-related trauma. Nerves get aggravated in the back and then sends a pain a signal to the brain. The brain processes this information and you experience pain as a result.


In some cases, chronic back pain can occur as a result of psychological stress. This is known as psychosomatic pain. In the case of psychosomatic back pain, the brain sends a pain signal to the body. According to John Sarno, the head of the Outpatient Department at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University Medical Center, the brain does this because it is, “Preferable to feel physical pain than to experience deep emotional pain.” Whether psychological or psychosomatic, people experiencing chronic back pain may benefit from the stress relief that hypnotherapy allows for.


According to the American Psychological Association, hypnosis is effective in the treatment of both chronic and acute back pain. Hypnosis alleviates the sensory factors that cause pain to be experienced in the first place. This decreased sensitivity to pain in the body is known as hypno-analgesia. Hypnotic analgesia is so effective, in fact, that it may even help individuals avoid major surgery and other medical treatments. In the case of back pain, hypnosis can make chronic back pain more manageable. While some individuals are resistant to hypnotic treatments, most people are able to find some form of pain relief through hypnosis.


While a hypnotherapist can induce a state of hypnosis, self-hypnosis is also possible. Self-hypnosis involves an individual guiding herself into a hypnotic state. This is possible through learned instruction, a recording or after practicing with the help of a hypnotherapist. Self-hypnosis is availablle on a daily basis outside of clinical treatments. In the case of people with chronic back pain, this can be especially useful when flare-ups occur. Regular self-hypnosis can assist with lowering stress levels overall in day to day life. In addition to making back pain management easier, lower stress levels mean better sleep and less anxiety. Hypnotherapy is similar to meditation in the way that it allows for individuals to take control of their mental and physical health. With that in mind, meditation may be a beneficial complementary practice to use alongside hypnosis.


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While hypnosis is gaining traction in Western medicine, it remains a holistic practice. This means that it will be most effective if used in combination with other wellbeing practices. Other factors that can contribute to the effectiveness of hypnotherapy include healthy lifestyle and diet choices. Changing what are know as ‘limiting beliefs’ can also help with pain management. For example, for hypnotherapy to be the most effective, patients must believe that something can be done to change their back pain. In addition to addressing thought patterns, a regular movement practice will be beneficial when managing chronic pain. This includes both stretching that alleviates tension in the back as well as strength building to support the back.


American Psychological Association. “Hypnosis for the Relief and Control of Pain.” 2016. Accessed December 20, 2016. http://www.apa.org/research/action/hypnosis.aspx.

Elkins, Gary, Mark P. Jensen, and David R. Patterson. “Hypnotherapy for the Management of Chronic Pain.” PubMed 55, no. 3 (July 2007). Accessed December 20, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752362/.

Farber, Sharon K., Ph.D. “Chronic Pain Syndrome and Other Psychosomatic Illness.” Psychology Today. Psychology Today, 13 June 2013. Web. 19 Dec. 2016.

Mayo Clinic. “Hypnosis What You Can Expect.” October 15, 2015. Accessed December 20, 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/hypnosis/basics/what-you-can-expect/prc-20019177.