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Imagery Reduces Pain, But You Wouldn’t Know It from the Biochemistry

13 Dec

Researchers from Kent State University in Ohio study examined the impact of a guided imagery intervention over an 8-week period on pain and pain disability in people with chronic non-cancer pain; and analyzed the mediating effects of neuro-endocrine and neuro-immune functioning on the effectiveness of the guided imagery.
A simple, interrupted time-series design (12-week period) was used. The guided imagery was introduced at Week 4 and used daily by 25 participants for the remaining 8 weeks.  Pain intensity and pain disability were measured at the beginning of the study and at six repeated 2-week intervals.

Measures of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activation (plasma cortisol), immune-mediated analgesia (lymphocyte counts and proliferation), and immune-mediated hyperalgesia (interleukin-1β) were obtained at the beginning of the study and at Week 11.

Pain levels were lower after the introduction of the imagery at Week 4 (Wilks' λ = 52.31; df = 2, 22; p = .000), as was pain disability (Wilks' λ = 5.98; df = 6, 18; p = .001).

Investigators determined that the guided imagery intervention was effective in reducing pain intensity and pain disability over the 8-week period; however, the neuroendocrine and neuroimmune results did not reflect this with decreased HPA axis activation, improved immune-mediated analgesia, nor reduced immune-mediated hyperalgesia.
Citation: Lewandowski W, Jacobson A, Palmieri PA, Alexander T, Zeller R.  Biological Mechanisms Related to the Effectiveness of Guided Imagery for Chronic Pain. Biol Res Nurs. 2010 Nov 26. [Epub ahead of print]

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award