Mind~Body~Spirit~Health~Wellbeing~Complementary & Alternative Medicine~and More…
The following is taken from my answer to a question asked on the GoodTherapy.org website about why and how hypnosis can help with pain – – even when the cause is definitively physical.
To answer the question briefly, your brain is the reason you can even experience bodily pain at all. It’s necessary for “interpreting” what that “ouch!” signal means. Pain and what it means are communicated from the brain to the body and vice versa as follows: There are neural pathways that run from the body to the brain (“ascending pathways”) and also from the brain to the body (“descending pathways”). What we know from current research is that how the brain interprets pain is affected not only by what’s going on in the body (nerves, tissue, etc.) but also by our thoughts and feelings. Incredible but true.
Why this is so is not yet well understood, but 1.) pain is processed by or registered in some of the same brain areas that register emotion, memory, etc.
2.) the descending pathways mentioned above can send a different message to the body (such as one of profound calm or relaxation). This message can actually reduce the severity of perceived pain – even when the pain is caused by injury to nerves or other tissue. Because, again, pain requires the brain’s involvement for you to interpret it as pain.
I often describe this process as like having a very narrow road leading from the brain to the body and vice versa. There’s really only enough room on that road for one “car” (pain, massage, hypnosis-induced relaxation, etc.) to drive up or down the middle at a time. If another car (like hypnosis-induced relaxation) is sent down from the brain, or up from the body (such as rubbing the painful area, which creates a new sensation),the first car (pain) will get pushed to the side in a way. Pushing the pain to the side can decrease our distress about the pain and also make it less noticeable or severe.