Doctors measure pain on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 is "no pain" and 10 is "the worst pain imaginable." That subjective measurement influences the amount of pain killer prescribed. When you think about it, it's kind of crazy. MRIs, CAT scans, blood work can be so precise. But with pain, it's up to you. Is my 7 the same as the doctor's perception of a 7? And should my 7 really be a 4? Who knows?
Another weird thing about pain is that it can come and go. When it acts up, it can take over your life and feel like screaming fire engines. While at other times, the pain is quiet as a mouse. Pain can be moody and demanding.
The good news for anyone suffering with pain is that there are many creative ways to manipulate and reduce pain. Hypnosis and imagery can work as pain relievers and sometimes even pain eliminators. There is a good deal of research showing how hypnosis and imagery can help patients decrease pain perception as well as help alleviate stress and other symptoms of pain. This illustrates how our minds can have a powerful impact on our bodies and brains.
Physical pain doesn't necessarily only have physical causes. It can have physical and psychological components. Dr. John Sarno, famous for curing thousands of people with back pain, believed that unconscious emotions, the ones people weren't dealing with, were often the cause of the pain. When those difficult emotions were about to come to the surface, the mind strategically created the distraction of physical pain.
I like to think of it as the body's attempt to get your attention. In its wisdom, it uses pain to stop your normal daily routine forcing you to look at what is going on in your life, like a messenger with a wake-up call. Once this realization is made and the emotions dealt with – the pain is no longer needed and can often disappear for good.
It is also worth mentioning the distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical sensation and suffering contains all the feelings and interpretations we have about that sensation. This is useful because, while we may at times be unable to consciously control the sensation of pain, we do have the option of changing our interpretation of it to alter the accompanying emotions.
A person can be trained to focus away from their pain using selective focus. For example, an athlete can injure him or herself during a game, and not feel the pain because the brain has shut off the awareness of that part of the body. The athlete was focused on winning the game and blocked the pain sensation. We can tap into this same power of selected focus and quite literally take our minds off the pain. Hypnosis can also help activate the pain control centers in the body to increase and release endorphins, the body's natural analgesics.
Hypnosis works to calm the nervous system allowing for pain relief and the body's own self-healing mechanisms to work better. When you're in pain, the nervous system jumps into a "fight-or-flight" state, which creates tension in the body that can both perpetuate the cycle of pain, and stand in the way of healing. Calming the nervous system is a powerful healing tool.
No pain protocol is complete without teaching self-hypnosis to use at home for pain relief. It isn't difficult to learn and feels quite relaxing. The best part is there are no side effects like there are with pain medications or even Advil or Tylenol. Our imagination is so powerful. It can create vivid imagery to activate our senses. Whether it generates a cooling or numbing sensation, creates a healing garden or revivifies a happy memory, the images can be brought to life using sight and sound and scent alleviating suffering and pain simply by closing our eyes and entering the amazing world of our imagination.