A Pain in the Neck: A New Approach to Treating Chronic Pain - South Eastern Therapy Clinic



The 24th-30th of July is National Pain Week; an awareness week convened by Chronic Pain Australia.


For someone who does not experience chronic pain, it may seem odd to dedicate an awareness week to such an issue. However, upon looking at the statistics it is easy to see the importance of increasing understanding and support services for those suffering chronic pain; that which is often invisible and misunderstood.

So what is chronic pain?

Taken from Pain Australia’s website….

“Chronic pain is pain which lasts beyond the time expected for healing following surgery, trauma or other conditions. It can also exist without a clear reason at all. Although chronic pain can be a symptom of other disease, it can also be a disease in its own right, characterised by changes within the central nervous system”.

Did you know that…

  • One in five people in Australia suffer from chronic pain. This number rises to one in three for over 65’s.

  • The total economic cost of chronic pain in 2007 was estimated at $34 billion, including $11 billion in productivity costs and $7 billion in direct health care costs.

  • Less than 10% of people with chronic non-cancer pain gain access to effective care, despite the fact that current knowledge would allow 80% to be treated effectively, if there was adequate access to pain services.

In addition to these statistics, the repercussions of living with chronic pain on a social, emotional and psychological level are significant. Due to the often invisible nature of chronic pain, a person suffering may feel misunderstood and even stigmatised by people who do not fully understand or even believe what they are going through.

A person faced with chronic pain may be at risk of experiencing decreased enjoyment of normal activities, loss of function, role change and relationship difficulties. As a result of all of this, one in five people who experience chronic pain will also experience depression or other mood disorders. The prevalence of generalised anxiety, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse and suicide for those experiencing chronic pain is also higher than in the general population.

Pain Australia reports that pain is not just a physical sensation. Pain is also influenced by attitudes, beliefs, personality and social factors, and can affect emotional and mental well being.

This is where therapies such as hypnotherapy can complement a treatment program for someone suffering chronic pain.

How can hypnotherapy help? A case study

Julie (not her real name) came to see me roughly 18 months after her horse riding accident. She was suffering chronic pain due to the whiplash incurred from the accident. Whiplash is a soft tissue neck injury that is caused by a severe jerk to the head. In minor cases, symptoms may last only days, but in more severe cases symptoms may last years.

This was unfortunately the case for Julie, who 18 months later was still experiencing an array of symptoms from her injury, including neck pain, back pain, weekly migraines and difficultly sleeping. This was in turn impacting her work, her ability to enjoy activities and her relationships. Since the accident Julie reported that she became withdrawn from her social circles because as she put it,

“People just didn’t understand what I was going through. At first everyone was very supportive and helpful, but as time went on, I think they just expected that I should be better by now. Of course no one actually said that, but I just got that feeling. So I stopped talking about it and began to isolate myself more and more”.

It was clear to me that Julie was depressed and that what was once a physical injury had now become exacerbated by the social, emotional and psychological fallout from having to live with chronic pain. Who of course could be at the top of their game if they are chronically sleep deprived?

Julie had gone to see a number of specialists and she was on high doses of daily painkillers but they were as she says, “Only taking the edge of the pain; a temporary band-aid”.

Julie booked in for four weekly sessions with me for hypnotherapy and counselling. During these sessions, we discussed the things that she was experiencing and how she was feeling about these changes in life circumstances. For Julie, there was clearly an element of grief that she was experiencing, as she ‘grieved’ what she felt she had lost; her health.

During each session of hypnosis, we focused on four different aspects of Julie’s physical and emotional recovery; decreasing depression and anxiety, dealing with grief and creating acceptance about where she was at in her life right now, trusting in her body’s ability to heal and becoming an observer rather than a recipient of the pain.

In each of these sessions, we also built in a positive expectancy for the future. In this way, we were training her mind to truly embrace the belief that this WILL get better.

Every session of hypnotherapy was recorded (usually these recordings lasted about 20 minutes or so) and I instructed Julie to listen to the recording on a daily basis in between sessions.

When Julie first came to see me, she reported that her daily pain levels were around 7 or 8 out of 10, depression was often nearing a 10 out of 10 and that she rarely woke up from sleep feeling fully rested. She also suffered weekly migraines, sometimes a couple per week.

After four weeks in treatment and listening to the hypnosis recordings each day, even I was surprised to notice the difference in Julie. Whereas once she sat slumped, looking defeated and teary, she now seemed to have a spring in her step. It was as though energy and life had returned.

I asked Julie the same series of questions. She reported that there were still bad days, but usually now her pain was around 3 or 4 out of 10, her depression and anxiety had decreased to around 2 out of 10 most days, and she reported that she was even sleeping solidly through the night on most nights. It had been over two weeks since she had had a migraine.

When I reminded her of her answers when she first came to see me, she too was truly surprised by the contrast in how much things had improved in just four weeks.

For Julie now, she has decided that her next step is to visit her doctor and her physiotherapist to get a current assessment of her progress and her pain medication. I have also suggested that she continues to listen to the hypnosis recordings on a daily basis to keep her coping levels in check and to get in touch if she ever feels that she needs another session.

Hypnotherapy can be a wonderful part of any chronic pain management plan. For more information about this, contact me by email or call 0422 014 782.

If any of this has raised any issues for you and you need to speak to someone now, please call Lifeline 13 11 14.