New research suggests that the pain felt by fibromyalgia patients can be significantly reduced through the use of hypnosis and suggestion.
In a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and University College London, in the UK, a team of researchers used fMRI scans to determine whether fibromyalgia patients could be taught to cope better with painful sensations through a combination of suggestion and hypnosis.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition in which patients experience physical pain throughout their body as well as other debilitating symptoms such as fatigue and cognitive difficulties. The pain is often severe and can affect the ligaments, tendons and muscles. There seems to be no physical reason for the pain of fibromyalgia and the cause of the condition remains unknown. It is thought however that the problem may lie with how the brain processes pain and other sensations.
Patients often find that over the counter drugs do nothing to reduce the level of pain so ask their doctor for stronger medications. Some patients even end up on opioid drugs such as morphine, codeine, Vicodin, and Oxycontin which bring with them the potential for serious side-effects. Rather shockingly, even these powerful painkilling drugs are often ineffective against the pain of fibromyalgia. A recent study shed some light on why this may be, finding that the receptors in the nervous system that usually bind molecules of these drugs do so to a lesser extent in people suffering from the disease.
Exercise and rehabilitative therapies are often beneficial, particularly swimming pool based exercise according to studies, but patients are still left in a lot of pain much of the time.
This latest study into suggestion and hypnosis may offer patients an effective tool to manage pain and put them in control thus also lowering anxiety and stress levels.
During the study 46 fibromyalgia patients put under hypnosis and asked to imagine a dial indicating their pain levels. They were then asked to use the dial to turn down the level of pain they were experiencing. The researchers found that this technique was highly effective.
The team also used fMRI scans with 12 of the patients to look at brain activity while they were under hypnosis and using the dial technique to alter their pain levels.
Dr Stuart Derbyshire, who headed the team at the University of Birmingham, said: "Fibromyalgia is an unusual condition because pain is experienced without any obvious physical stimulus being involved. In the study we looked at the exact neural processes that affect sufferers and their ability to control their pain."
"Our participants all showed classic brain activity that we would associate with severe pain. However, all were able control the intensity of that pain by turning the dial up or down."
"Although they were all able to affect their pain using the dial, this effect was significantly more pronounced when subjects were under hypnosis."
"This suggests that hypnosis could be a useful tool in helping patients manage chronic pain and is worthy of further research."
"While patients altered their pain during fMRI the team observed commensurate changes in activity in regions of the brain known to respond to pain."
He added: "Understanding the complex neural networks involved in generating pain obviously has significant implications for our ability to treat pain in all its forms."
"In this case the participants' ability to turn down pain shows that the experience of pain goes beyond an immediate reaction to a pin prick or burn."
"Rather than a stimulus causing pain, these patients might experience pain because of pain signals diffusing from the brain."
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