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30th January 2020

Fighting chronic back pain with hypnosis


Using hypnosis to enhance traditional pain management.

Using hypnosis to enhance traditional pain management is the latest research-led treatment showing promise in the battle against chronic back pain.

With funding from The Hospital Research Foundation and University of South Australia, researchers have discovered an improvement in people’s experience of pain when using hypnosis techniques, which can also be implemented in their homes.

Associate Professor Tasha Stanton said her team’s feasibility study combined hypnosis with Pain Science Education (a greater understanding of what pain is and why we have it) to help people suffering long-term complex back issues on a wait-list with the Royal Adelaide Hospital’s Pain Management Unit.

“Pain, especially when it’s chronic, is an incredibly complex experience that’s influenced by so many different things,” A/Prof Stanton said.

“Pain Science Education is a well-established intervention for people with chronic pain, but our study looked at delivering this intervention via hypnosis, which has never been done before.

“A clinical psychologist delivered two education and hypnosis sessions a week apart, and we also gave people audio recordings which they could take home and listen to at their own convenience and within their own environment.

“With this double-barrelled approach, our participants reported improvements in their pain intensity and pain knowledge.”

Co-investigator Brian Pulling said the hypnotic techniques helped people learn about pain, which appeared to translate to clinical benefits.

“Our hypnosis techniques are not really like what you see in the movies. They centre on relaxation, focused attention, decreased peripheral awareness and limiting distractions,” Mr Pulling said.

“Using this method to educate people about their pain potentially makes the treatment longer-lasting, it’s not just while they’re in the treatment session. It can help promote lasting changes to their understanding of pain.”

“Providing the audio tape was also really beneficial, after the participants had experienced the hypnosis in a clinical setting and knew what to expect.

“By collaborating with the RAH, we were able to access people who had been experiencing severe pain for many years, so any way we could make the treatment more accessible to them was very well-received.”

The research team now hopes to expand on these findings in a larger study, with the end goal being to determine whether hypnosis-delivered Pain Science Education should be a standard clinical treatment option.

“We’re really grateful to The Hospital Research Foundation for supporting us in testing this theory,” A/Prof Stanton said.

“Now that we have discovered that this new treatment option holds promise, we can fully evaluate it, with the aim of assisting people who are desperate for help in managing their pain or in transitioning off their pain relief medication.”