Chronic pain has grown into one of the nation’s leading health problems. Approximately 100 million adult Americans face chronic pain – more than the total affected by heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined (Source: Institute of Medicine). Pain management specialists can help patients find relief through prescriptions, therapies and medical treatments. However, patients can also make great strides in coping with their chronic pain through imagery techniques.
In order for imagery techniques to be effective, your body must first be in a relaxed state. This may be more difficult than it sounds – especially if you are experiencing pain – and could require some practice. Place yourself in a quiet, calm environment and close your eyes. Draw your mental focus inward to avoid letting your mind wander, and begin taking deep, slow, deliberate breaths. Continue with your controlled breathing while mentally relaxing each muscle in your body. Once you have successfully completed 2 to 3 minutes of relaxation and controlled breathing, you can begin practicing any of the following techniques:
- Altered Focus works as a tool of mental distraction to take your mind off the pain. Direct your focus on a pain-free part of the body, and imagine altering sensations in that body part, such as making it warmer or cooler.
- Dissociation involves mentally detaching pain from the rest of your body. Visualize removing all pain and pushing it as far away as possible.
- Sensory splitting is a technique that compartmentalizes sensations in order to focus on the non-painful ones. For example, if your pain is accompanied by heat, direct your focus on the warming sensation instead of the pain.
- Counting can give you something to concentrate on besides the pain. Whether you count simple objects in the room, or give yourself a challenge – such as counting backwards from 100 by 3s – this distraction will help keep your mind occupied during painful episodes.
- Positive imagery creates a mental escape where you can imagine yourself without pain. Picture a setting where you feel relaxed, happy and pain-free. Focus on the positive feelings that you get from being in this place.
- Mental anesthesia involves imagining a numbing sensation taking over the affected area of your body and wiping away all pain.
- Pain movement is an exercise that envisions pain being moved away from the affected area into a less painful part of the body. You may even be able to imagine moving the pain out of your body altogether (Source: Spine-Health).
It takes time to master imagery techniques, but with a little bit of practice, you will find that it becomes easier. The good news is, these techniques can be used at any time or place, so you’ll always be prepared when the pain strikes. Try to practice these techniques for 30 minutes at least three times a week, and discover the power that mind has over matter!