When you are experiencing pain, it’s hard to accept that much of the sensation may be artificial. Yet, neurologist Ramachandran’s work with those with phantom pain from limbs that were no longer there, has shown how pain is actually an “illusion.” Through therapy with mirrors and visualization exercises, patients were able to diminish their experience of pain dramatically.
Pain specialists now believe that messages of pain travel from the site of damaged tissue through the nervous system through several “gates” before reaching the brain. The sensation can be blocked at many points. Even after reaching the brain, a gate can be closed and endorphins released, providing the body’s own pain killers.
Explaining the amazing statement, that “pain is an illusion,” Ramachandran says that
Our mind is a ‘virtual reality machine,’ which experiences the world indirectly an processes it at one remove, constructing a model in our head. So pain, like the body image, is a construct of our brain. (Quoted in The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, MD).
fMRI brain scans also show how with the use of a placebo, the brain can turn down its own pain-responsive regions.
This fascinating work demonstrates why hypnosis is so effective for pain management. Either by working with a hypnotherapist or by learning self-hypnosis, clients can learn to manipulate their experience of pain, freeing themselves from the need to rely so heavily on pain medications.