When preparing for any chronic pain coping method, it is critical to learn how to relax the body using focus and deep breathing techniques. It takes practice to learn to relax, especially when you are in pain. It is advantageous to be able to release muscle tension throughout the body and begin to divert attention away from the pain.
Chronic pain coping techniques begin with controlled deep breathing, as shown below:
- Taking a relaxed, reclining position in a dark room and either closing both eyes or focusing on a point.
- Slowing down and taking deep breaths while using the chest (and not the abdomen). If you’re distracted, think of a word like “relax” to help control your breathing and gain focus. This procedure can be carried out by repeating the syllables “re” while inhaling and “lax” while exhaling.
- Continue with controlled breathing for 2 to 3 minutes.
After achieving relaxation and focus, imagery techniques can be used.
The following are eleven specific imagery and chronic pain control techniques that are effective for pain management:
- Focus has been altered. This is a popular technique for demonstrating how powerfully the mind can alter bodily sensations. Focusing attention on a specific non-painful part of the body (hand, foot, etc.) and altering sensation in that part of the body is an example of altered focus. Consider imagining the hand warming up. This process diverts the mind’s attention away from the source of the pain, which could be in the back or neck.
- Dissociation. This chronic pain technique, as the name implies, entails mentally separating the painful body part from the rest of the body, or imagining the body and mind as separate, with the chronic pain distant from one’s mind. Consider the painful lower back sitting on a chair across the room and telling it to stay there, away from the mind.
- Splitting the senses. The painful sensation (pain, burning, pins, and needles) is divided into separate parts using this technique. For example, if the leg or back pain is hot, the sensation of the heat is focused on rather than the pain.
- Anesthesia of the mind. This method entails imagining a numbing anesthetic (such as Novocain) being injected into the painful area. Consider the following scenario: a numbing solution is injected into the lower back. Similarly, visualizing a soothing and cooling ice pack being applied to the painful area can help reduce pain perception.
- Analgesia of the mind. Based on the concept of mental anesthesia, this technique involves imagining a strong pain-relieving agent, such as morphine, being injected into the painful area. An alternative method is to imagine the brain producing a massive number of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving substance, and directing it to the painful areas.
- Transfer is the process of using the mind to produce altered sensations, such as heat, cold, or anesthetic, in a non-painful hand before placing the hand on the painful area. This pleasant, altered sensation is then projected to be transferred to the painful area.
- The progression/regression of age. Using one’s imagination to transport oneself forward or backward in time to a pain-free state or to experience much less pain. After that, instructing oneself to act “as if” this image were true.
- Imagery with symbolic meaning. Consider a chronic pain symbol, such as a loud, irritating noise or a painfully bright light bulb. Reduce the irritant qualities of this symbol gradually, for example, by dimming the light or lowering the volume of the noise, thereby reducing the pain.
- Positive imagery is used. Concentrating your attention on a pleasant location, such as the beach or the mountains, where you can achieve a carefree, safe, and relaxed state.
Counting. Silent counting is an effective way to cope with painful episodes. Counting can include counting the number of breaths, acoustic ceiling holes, floor tiles, or simply conjuring up mental images and counting them.
- The movement of pain. Transferring chronic back pain from one part of your body to another, where the pain is more manageable. For instance, mentally transferring chronic back or neck pain into the hand, or even out of the hand and into the air.
Some of these techniques are probably best learned with the assistance of a professional, and it usually takes practice for these methods to become effective in assisting with chronic pain relief. It is often recommended to work on pain coping strategies for 30 minutes three times a week. Relaxation and chronic pain control can become strong and long-lasting with practice.
Chronic pain relief and relaxation can be produced with just a few deep breaths after learning these techniques. These techniques can then be used while doing any activity, such as working or talking. With enough practice, one can gain a greater sense of control over chronic pain and its effects on one’s life.