Imagery for Pain Management

~ By Patricia Kay Youngson ~

Imagery can be a tool for managing your pain.  It is a structured way of using your imagination to help relieve your pain.  It can decrease the blood pressure and pulse, anxiety and depression, and even blood cholesterol.  It can speed the healing of cuts and burns.  You can image visually, auditorily and with taste, smell, and emotions. Studies show that people who have experienced trauma (who are more likely to have chronic pain) are particularly good at using imagery.

For an example of how imagery can effect your body, take a few minutes and imagine that you have a lemon in your hand.  You take a knife and cut it in half.  Then cut it in fourths.  Squeeze the juice of one of those sections into your mouth.  You probably by now are experiencing saliva begin to fill your mouth.  This is the power of your imagination.  Every time you practice any of the following imaging exercises you will become more skilled.

You can discover which kind of imaging you do best by thinking of your favorite fruit. Imagine eating it.  Which quality of that fruit impacts you the most?  Taste?  Feel?  Smell?  Appearance?

You can experience imagery through guided imagery, which can use all of the senses.  Guided imagery is a kind of directed fantasy or daydreaming.  It sends healing messages into the right brain which is visual, emotional, and sensory.  Belleruth Naparstek ( has many CDs for pain relief, stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, sexual trauma, presurgical preparation, and many many more for most anything you can think of.  I highly recommend her CDs.

One way to use imagery is to relax with some deep belly breaths.  When you breathe in say “relax” to yourself and when you breathe out say “now”.  Then, put your mind in your pain and wait for an image to come to you–what do you see, hear, taste, smell, or feel.  Make this image as full as possible by bringing in all of your senses.  What does the image tell you?  Can you imagine doing something with the image that will help relieve your pain?  For instance you might sense/imagine that there is a nail sticking in the area of pain.  Pull it out.  Or maybe you feel burning and imagine a fire.  Douse it with a spray of cold water or use a fire extinguisher.

Or you could quiet your mind and body with belly breathing.  Then identify a conflict-free experience such as a time when you are relatively comfortable in mind and body.  This could be after you have taken medication, with friends, watching a good movie, or even asleep.  Imagine this experience connecting all of your senses with this image.  Make sure it is conflict free.  Now, pendulate, moving your attention from the current pain or memory of pain and this conflict-free image.  Breathe in the comfort and exhale the comfort into the pain.

Another method is fist clenching.  Imagine that your pain is flowing into both hands.  Take a deep breath and hold your breath while you clench both fists.  Feel the pain accumulating in your clenched fists.  Slowly breathe out through your mouth while you unclench your hands.  Imagine the pain streaming out from your fingers.

Finally there is the circle of pain imagery.  Quiet your mind and body with deep belly breathing.  Scan your body for any pain or discomfort.  Gather the pain into a glowing, brightly colored circle.  Play with this circle, changing the size, shape and color.  Move it to the surface of your skin.  Imagine it floating above the surface of your skin.  Move it up and away.  Send it out a window or through the roof, over the tops of trees and see it disappear.

These techniques are from “Reversing Chronic Pain” by Maggie Phillips.

Patricia Kay Youngson

Patricia Kay Youngson

Patricia Kay Youngson RN, MA.  Patricia Kay is a counselor who specializes in helping people with chronic pain.,