Can You Think Away Your Pain?

A tantalizing new study by Clare Philips and Debbie Samson shows that some pain-sufferers can get relief by "re-imagining" their pain away:

After being interviewed about their baseline pain and their psychological state - including feelings of mental defeat, anxiety and depression - the participants were asked to select their most powerful and distressing pain-related mental image. "I see myself on all fours - like a dog but unable to move," said one. All participants spent time forming this "index image" in their mind before answering more questions about how they were feeling. Focusing on the unpleasant image increased pain and emotional distress. Remember, this is an image that the participants experienced spontaneously in their everyday lives (for nearly half of them, it came to mind several times a day).

Next, after a six-minute gap talking about where they grew up (as a distraction), 26 of the participants were taught to re-picture their pain. They were asked to think "how would you rather see the image?" and to describe in detail what this would entail. They then focused on this new image - for example, the participant above who'd previously described the dog-image now imagined: "I am at the start of a race….the gun goes off and the crowd cheers as I take off." The remaining participants acted as controls and spent the same time focused on their original, unpleasant index image.

After picturing a "re-scripted" pain image, the participants in that group experienced a dramatic drop in their pain levels. In fact, 49 per cent of them said they felt no pain at that time, compared with 11 per cent of them feeling no pain after imagining their index image.


Does this really work, Neatoramanauts? Someone I met a long time ago told me that he could "will" away headaches - have you successfully done anything like that?

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All you have to do is watch a self-immolation by a Buddhist monk to understand just how much control you can have via very strong and prolonged meditation practice.
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Yes, from experience I can say that meditation (especially mindfulness meditation) can attenuate pain. What IFZen describes is a form of meditation too (focused attention).
There is research being done on this subject but finding conclusive results is challenging, probably because of the nature of pain itself and the difficulty in finding a reliable way of measuring it. But given that it is fundamentally psychological, it is quite rational to assume that such techniques do have an effect.
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Once my younger sister was out of surgery, with a big pain in her limbs. A doctor came, took her hand and asked her to concentrate on the pain. Then he told her to move it along her body to the shoulder, move it down to her arm and finally to "give" him her pain. He asked her to push it through his hand then his arm. And she felt asleep, relieved from her pain.
May be it was hypnotising. I don't know, but it worked.
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