Reduce pain through the use of this relaxation technique

Tracy Woolrich's picture
Guided imagery is a type of relaxation that uses your imagination to create calming images

Guided imagery is a type of relaxation that uses your imagination to create calming and soothing images in your mind. It creates a mental vacation so to speak. By tapping into your inner feelings and strengths, it allows you to align your emotional, spiritual and physical bodies. But can these mental images truly create positive outcomes?

In 2004 I was the Director of case management for a state driven pilot program in Florida that was developed to integrate alternative healing into traditional healthcare models. It focused on chronic pain, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. It was deemed a success by everyone that researched it. It not only improved patient outcomes it saved the state money. Our success was widely published n local and national magazines. One of the tools we used that was very popular was Guided Imagery. I have seen it in action and am a true believer. It works by not only reducing pain but in relieving stress and enhancing relaxation, coping skills and sleep.

According to Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek, guided imagery utilizes both the mind and body of an individual. On her website she wrote “Although it has been called "visualization" and "mental imagery", these terms are misleading. Guided imagery involves far more than just the visual sense and this is a good thing, given the fact that only about 55% of the population is strongly wired visually. Instead, imagery involves all of the senses, and almost anyone can do this. Neither is it strictly a "mental" activity it involves the whole body, the emotions and all the senses, and it is precisely this body-based focus that makes for its powerful impact.”

Almost anyone can use this technique. You can purchase premade tapes, CD and MP3 that are specific to pain, anxiety, depression and a plethora of physical and emotional challenges. Sometimes it is beneficial to find a good script and make your own recording. It is very powerful for your subconscious to hear your own voice speaking.

The benefits of guided imagery
Traditionally medical and surgical interventions will make a person feel as though they have no control. It is often overwhelming and makes symptoms intensify. Research shows that increased anxiety can effect pain, lower immunity and prolong recovery time. Guided imagery can bring about balance in all this.

Guided imagery may assist with:

  • Increased feeling of control
  • Improved sleep
  • Improve immune system
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Decrease in pain
  • Decrease in depression
  • Decrease in anxiety


Research studies on guided imagery

There have been more than 200 research studies over the past three decades showing that guided imagery can assist with the loss of control, fear, anxiety, depression, insomnia and other problems often associated with chronic illness.

Researchers from the College of Nursing, Kent State University conducted a pilot study to determine the effect of a guided imagery. It occurred over 12 weeks with a sample of 25 patients with chronic, non-cancer pain.
Measurements of pain were obtained at the beginning of the study and repeated at 2-week intervals. In addition chemical measurements of cortisol, lymphocyte subset counts and interleukin-1β were obtained at the beginning of the study and at Week 11.
The researchers concluded that guided imagery was effective in reducing pain intensity and disability both subjectively and objectively through improved lab values.

Researchers from Indiana University School of Nursing in Indianapolis evaluated whether guided imagery was a useful self-management tool for osteoarthritis pain. Specifically, they evaluated its use in reducing pain, increasing mobility and reducing medication use.
Thirty adults participated in the 4-month trial by using either guided imagery or a sham relaxation technique.
Repeated measurements revealed that those who used the guided imagery had a significant reduction in pain from baseline to month 4 and significant improvement in mobility from baseline to month 2. In addition, those who used guided imagery had a significant reduction in over-the-counter and prescribed medication use from baseline to month 4. The researchers therefore concluded that guided imagery is a useful strategy to use for pain management.

Those who should avoid guided imagery are

  • Those who are actively psychotic
  • Those that are unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.
  • Those having hallucinations
  • Those that have dementia



Lewandowski W, Jacobson A, Palmieri PA, Alexander T, Zeller R. Biological Mechanisms Related to the Effectiveness of Guided Imagery for Chronic Pain. Biological Research in Nursing. 2010 Nov 26.

Baird CL, Murawski MM, Wu J. Efficacy of Guided Imagery with Relaxation for Osteoarthritis Symptoms and Medication Intake. Pain Management Nursing. 2010 Mar;11 (1):pages 56-65.