Pain Control Strategies
This short article summarises some basic pain management strategies used in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and related approaches, including some forms of hypnotherapy. Common coping strategies, found effective by other people, can be classified in terms of a handful of broad categories, as follows,
- Imagining a pleasant scene, such as being in a garden or on a beach. This can be seen as a form of distraction and requires a certain amount of concentration but most people are capable of doing it. It works well as a means of coping with short-lived episodes of pain, although this technique may be difficult to do in situations where attention is required for other activities.
- Imagining a new context and meaning is a common strategy used by children, e.g., imagining being a spy or soldier shot in the arm when having an injection. Building an imaginary story around the pain sensation to create a new meaning can be useful for adults too, though.
- Imagining the sensation transforming into another type of feeling, such as warmth, cold, pressure, etc. A similar technique involves symbolising the sensation by imagining it as a shape or colour and transforming it into something else.
- Muscle relaxation is a common technique that’s usually achieved by first tensing groups of muscles for about 10-20 seconds before letting to and releasing the tension from them.
- Diaphragmatic breathing involves taking slow, deep breaths, using the abdomen rather than breathing from the chest.
- Self-hypnosis and autosuggestion are also common methods of relaxation, by means of focusing on relaxing verbal instructions or imagery.
- Focus on a different physical activity, sometimes called “behavioural distraction”, giving all of your attention to the task at hand.
- Focus on your environment, even if you’re not engaged in a task, becoming more aware of what your senses reveal in the here and now.
- Focus on a distracting mental activity, such as counting backwards from one hundred in steps of three, or solving a complicated puzzle.
- Accepting the sensation in a detached way, focusing on it rather than trying to distract yourself, and viewing it from a more impersonal perspective, e.g., by analysing it anatomically or imagining taking a step back from it or placing it outside of the body.