Arthritis Today

Hypnosis for Pain Relief

Self-hypnosis for arthritis may help you to avoid using more medications.


If you’re looking for a gentle way to reduce the pain that comes along with chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or osteoarthritis (OA), hypnosis may just do the trick. Studies show that over 75 percent of people with arthritis and related diseases experience significant pain relief using hypnosis.

Forget all the movies or TV shows where a doctor swings a watch in front of his patient’s face, tells her she’s “getting very sleepy,” and then makes her flap her arms and cluck like a chicken. Today’s practitioners are using hypnosis to give patients fighting chronic pain an additional tool to help manage their pain.

Learning to Relax with Hypnosis

Hypnosis isn’t about convincing you that you don’t feel pain. It’s about helping you manage the fear and anxiety you feel related to that pain. It also relaxes or quiets your nervous system, so it’s not as reactive to the pain. And it redirects your attention away from the sensation of pain. In a hypnosis session, which usually lasts 10-20 minutes, you will likely start out by focusing on your breathing to help you relax. Then the hypnotist will ask you to imagine a pleasant place and describe it in detail. Here, the hypnotist refocuses your attention from something that’s going to trigger negative emotions to something that’s going to activate positive emotions, such as being at the beach. You can think of your brain like a TV set. You can turn the volume down (like taking medicine for your pain), but you can also change the channel, so you can shift from what might be unpleasant here and now to someplace nice.

If your mind is off to the beach, and you’re imagining the warmth of the sun, the cool of the breeze, the sand at your feet, you’ll be less focused on your pain – and ready for the indirect suggestion on how to react to pain in the future. That suggestion might sound something like this: “You will continue to feel this same sensation of pain, but you’ll be much less distressed about it, much calmer, much more at ease, not worried about it.”

Practice Makes Perfect

Hypnosis isn’t a one-shot treatment. At the beginning, it can be part of regular psychotherapy sessions done in a doctor’s office. Hypnosis typically helps relieve pain in just four to 10 sessions. But some people benefit faster and others not at all. The goal is to teach patients the technique so they can use it on their own when pain strikes. Once you learn the technique, you can continue therapy at home without having to return for more sessions.

Some practitioners create recordings for patients that they can later play to lead themselves into the hypnotic process. Some patients prefer to come up with their own script and not rely on a recording or the therapist’s voice to activate the process when pain strikes and they need it.

To learn hypnosis, you need to practice it. Some people develop it more easily than others. Practice when you feel little or no pain. When you’re in a lot of pain, it can be harder to do.

Hypnosis Works for Kids Too

With hypnosis, you give a child a tool to help him or herself take control. When the child feels pain, he or she is able to do something about it immediately without having to wait until mom gets there with the pills or wait an hour until the pills start to take effect. In addition to addressing the pain, having hypnosis as a tool helps eliminate the stress that comes from not having control. For children who are more active in their daydreaming than adults, creating a more active, action-packed escape may be necessary. Rather than relaxing at the beach with a book, a child may want to imagine doing something he or she loves, like playing on the playground or kicking a soccer ball downfield.

Is Hypnosis Right for You?

The only downside to hypnosis is that some people respond to it better than others. There’s no harm in trying it. There are no side effects and if it doesn’t work for you, you can stop at any time. But most people report significant reduction in pain and gain a simple tool for easing it for the rest of their lives. It may even save you money in long-term because you may need fewer medications for your pain.

To find a qualified hypnotherapist, ask your doctor for a referral or contact the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis or the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis.  Most health insurance companies cover hypnosis for pain therapy, if performed by a medical or psychological professional.