Using Hypnotherapy To Treat Arthritis

Hypnosis treatment for arthritis

There are two categories of pain, some forms are chronic and some are acute. The condition I have chosen to look at in this article is chronic pain stemming from Arthritis.

I will look at how the treatment of arthritis can be helped with hypnosis & hypnotherapy as this is a subject that is very much part of my life.

Using hypnotherapy to treat arthritis

Arthritis – An Overview
Arthritis is the general name is given for conditions that affect the joints, bones and surrounding tissues. It is an inflammation of the joints which is often painful. It tends to create redness and heat which is located around the area of the pain. In its various forms, arthritis disables people more, than any other form of chronic pain.

There are several types of arthritis, the most common are Rheumatoid, and osteoarthritis. There are others which are, cervical spondylitis, ankylosing spondylitis, gout & reiters syndrome, to name but a few. The condition can also effect children which is called arthritis or juvenile rheumatic (arthritis juvenile chronic).


The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. Over time cartilage that sits in-between the bones slowly erodes leading to painful rubbing of bone on bone within the joints. This erosion can also lead to the joints moving away from it’s natural position causing misalignment of the joint and joint pain. The most effected areas are the knees, hands, hips and spine. People at the ages of 40 to 60 are mainly effected by the condition. The symptoms are slow, with a stiffness of the joints as they are manipulated. Some people will only experience a slight stiffness, while others will go on to have grating knobbly bone growth (especially on the hands) and joints that go out of alignment. The pain and loss of movement tends to become worse through the day with the joints being used.

Rheumatoid arthritis

The most common form of inflammatory arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. It is a chronic condition which causes the joints to swell and produces pain. This leads to movement being reduced and the breakdown of cartilage. It effects between 1 and 3 percent of the population and usually starts between the ages of 30 and 50. Women are effected three times more often than men. The symptoms begin slowly with swollen painful joints which are accompanied by the an overall feeling of lowered wellbeing e.g. tiredness. This can develop into pain leading to joint stiffness & swelling again hindering mobility. General effects of rheumatoid arthritis, may include loss of appetite and weight, muscle pain, inflammation of tendons. The blood disorder, anemia and vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) sometimes develop.

There is the possibility, that this condition can move into other body organs such as lungs, skin & eyes. Rheumatoid arthritis is commonly worse in the morning and can often improve as the day progresses and the joints are moved and flexed. The condition is thought to be caused, by a fault in the immune system, that causes the body to attack it’s own tissues. It’s symptoms distinguish the condition from other forms of arthritis, by the soft tissue swelling of many joints at the same time (polyarthritis).

Diagnosis for arthritis

Diagnosis for both forms of arthritis is usually given by the symptoms and a physical examination. Things taken into account are the persons occupation, activities that may strain the joints such as sport, medical history and if there is any history of arthritis in the family. Pinpointing the severity is usually done by arranging an x-ray or less frequent, either a CT or MRI scan. Also a full blood count which includes checking the white blood cells, as these will increase if infectious arthritis is present. The blood test will also deter if the condition is osteo or rheumatoid arthritis.

Medical treatment, usually consists of anti inflammatory medication. The names of the medications which block pain are called analgesics. Orthodox treatment today, is so wide spread that there is a named drug for practically every letter of the alphabet, (ref most common are voltrol, dicloflenac, methotrexate. Cortisone injections are also given every 6 months into the effected bone, not recommended long term, as the side effects can cause the wasting away of tissue surrounding the joint.

Other treatments that can be used are, acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractics and hydrotherapy. These are not clinically proven to be effective. Surgery (arthroplasty) can be an option, by replacing the joint with a synthetic one. Although not all joints can be replaced by this procedure.

The body has a healing process of it’s own that can help control of pain. It’s the most natural pain killer found in the body, it’s called Endorphin and Encephalins. Endorphins are chemicals that bind the receptors on nerve cells and provide pain relief from the brain. The actions of these chemicals, rather than pass on the pain like neurotransmitters, they modulate the pain. They inhibit the nerves in the frontal lobe of the brain and reduce the feelings of pain.

The side effects arthritis can have on the person with the condition can be insomnia, the immune system becoming low, nausea, IBS and the healing process of the body not working properly. It also causes low self esteem, anxiety and stress due to the feeling of lack of control over the illness. Prognosis of the condition are at the moment not good as there is no known cure. The illness can go into remission for a short temporary relief. As it’s relief is only temporary, the person can sometimes feel the pain has doubled when it returns.

Hypnotherapy for treating arthritis

Hypnosis can work alongside any treatment plan the client’s doctor already has in motion. Help, such as giving the client tolerance of pain level, enhance their coping strategy, and raise their self esteem. Using hypnotherapy to help the patient relax, and encouragement of pain acceptance can also help the client to feel they have regained control of the situation. This in turn will help reduce their anxiety towards the unexpected illness.

As said, hypnotherapy helps, Dryden (2006) say’s, “hypnosis can greatly assist a clinician, in the effective management of discomfort, due to arthritis and rheumatism”. Relaxation helps reduce the fear and anxiety, and can be a very useful part of hypnosis. It helps a persons coping skills and assists in seeing realistic goals that can be successfully achieved. With motivation, used at the correct physical and emotional time for the client, it can help them see they can still achieve things, by working in the boundaries of their condition. Hypnotherapy can help them to look beyond their illness for inspiration.

There are several types of hypnosis techniques that can be used, however with chronic pain it may not be a efficient for everyone. “In 1998, Eastwood et al proposed from studies that the highest results with pain relief were found in subjects assessed to be the most hypnotisable, when direct analgesic suggestions were used“ module 8, (analgesics is the medical name for pain blockers proscribed, hypnoanalgesic, is the use of hypnotherapy as an analgesic also module 8). What must be remembered is pain control would be more effective, when the client learns the hypnotherapy technique for them to carry out self hypnosis. This can be a successful tool to the client, as the condition is progressive.

There are many hypnotherapy scripts that can be used to help pain relief, but the best script is a personal script, working with the individuals issues they may have, as no two client’s are the same. As the hypnotic process is allowing, and learning the client to become relaxed in both body and mind, perception of pain will be reduced, when relaxation is achieved. Once this has been successful, we need to teach the client, that sometimes our body cries out for relaxation in order for it to help control the pain. They need to recognise this, especially as they’re dealing with chronic pain. If stressed the body will become tense which imports even more pain to the already weak area.

Hypnosis to treat arthritis

An Overview Of Hypnosis Techniques.
I would personally start with a permissive induction, (taking the client’s modality into account). As this style of hypnosis induction can be more imaginative, with imagery suggestion used in pain control, I feel the two would work well together. Easing the client from their pain while their attention were focused on a suggested image.

Glove anaesthesia is a relaxation technique that can be used, which can be created in different ways using heat or cold. Imagery of a bucket of either hot or cold water for example where the patient visualises placing a hand in it until they feel sufficiently either sensation. Then to transfer onto the painful area, once achieved suggest the hand is now back to normal.

If successful, while the client is still under hypnosis. It could be suggested “they can do it for themselves when they feel the need to”.  This technique could involve touching the client and should be discussed beforehand as this isn’t general therapy practice.

Direct suggestion technique, allows the client to turn their pain down gently. The pain becomes a pleasant tingling feeling instead. This would be a method I’d prefer to use as the perception of pain should never be switched off completely for an unspecified length of time.

Suggestions around the endorphin production, allows them to increase through such suggestions. These suggestions can be, the client imagines the brain producing the chemicals, sending them to the affected area where they are then bathed by them. Or messages from the brain are sending powerful messages to the area of pain, which reduces the sensation.

A suggestion of the client imagining the brain to be the part, that houses a control board and they can adjust the switches that control the production of endorphins. They can then send the chemical to the area of discomfort. This is another method I’d prefer to use on a client as they would feel more in control.

It must be remembered, before taking on a client for help with pain using hypnotherapy. A written medical letter of consent must be insisted on, before treating the client with the physical symptoms, and also total understanding of ethical implications.

In the first initial consultation with a client, their pain threshold should be one of the points discussed. Sometimes, people’s pain threshold can stem back to childhood and their upbringing concerning pain. If a child was given affection while enduring pain, this could result in the child faking pain in the future for the attention they required, this could continue into adulthood. Same as, if the child was told to shut up moaning and to get on with it, dismissing the child’s pain. This could result to when in adulthood, not feeling pain or certainly not so acutely.

So, to find out the client’s pain threshold is an important part of the therapy. Also to make a point of noting and checking any medication they may be on, to avoid any contraindications. These could include, the client wanting to rid the pain, in order for none to be felt at all. This would be dangerous as if no pain is felt, more damage to the bones etc, would be the result.

As arthritis is a chronic form of pain, which means long lasting, permanent, and more than likely progressive. It will also cause permanent change in the client’s lifestyle. These changes are emotional, practical and personal.

Asking the client how the illness has effected them, for example, has it altered their ability to perform everyday tasks, have they had to give up their job. Through loss of mobility and tiredness, do they feel a loss of time they can’t retrieve? Some people find a stigma attached to the condition, leaving them feeling their life has been turned upside down and any ambitions they once had, have now gone.

This also may lead, to how they see themselves and how they feel family and friends now see them, as a burden. Which has a domino effect, leaving them feeling useless, worthless, a nuisance and a failure. Anxiety, fear, low self esteem and any confidence they once had, has now started to diminish. Anger may also be felt, why should this illness happen to them.
These are all major points that need to be discussed with the client in order for hypnotherapy to work.

Having researched arthritis/hypnosis more deeply, I can see how hypnosis could play a large part in pain control. It’s a more natural way to the usual “just take these drugs”. There seems to be no side effects like you could have from the generally issued medication. As well as a relief from pain, hypnotherapy helps in rebuilding confidence, low self esteem etc. More importantly, hypnosis isn’t a magic wand, but can help a client realise their life hasn’t come to a standstill.

When they are having a particular painful day, (even if the client has a high pain threshold, these days occur), using self hypnosis would give a calming relief, rather than they become stressed, tense and frustrated with pain.

Using imagery suggestions that take them away from themselves for a while and relaxing deeply, has to be a bonus for arthritis sufferers. I will be using self hypnosis on myself in the future for this type of pain. Instead of suffering in silence through not being keen on taking prescribed medication.

Module 8
Windy Dryden 2006 Hypnotherapy A Handbook
NHS Direct Health Encyclopedia
Arthritis Today’s Drug guide 2007

Article Submitted By
Amanda Smith
Braintree Hypnotherapy

Date Published

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