Updated: Dec 30, 2020
A case study in hypnosis, massage, and chronic pain.
Habits are incredibly useful for us to be able to function without having to think through every little detail of life. The habits we acquire to survive unnatural situations however can leave a toll. Since we easily acquire habits, we may retain some of these adaptations long past their usefulness. A classic example is our response to trauma, which may help us through a difficult time, but can ultimately be life limiting. Emotional and physical reactions to trauma create similar conditions that often coexist. A common condition we come across in massage is muscle guarding. This is sometimes a protective response to trauma, such as whiplash, where the muscles of the neck tighten to prevent further injury to damaged tissue. This results in a very limited range of motion, which may persist long after the tissue being protected has completely healed. Similar emotional responses to trauma like PTSD can occur, limiting our ability to function normally in situations even slightly similar to the traumatic event. As massage can be used to overcome muscle guarding, so brainspotting can be used to return emotional responses back to pre-traumatic levels.
I’ve always felt that much of massage was involved in tricking the brain into reducing tension in the muscles. This is accomplished by increasing the perceived tension in the muscles in order to confuse the brain into saying “I want these muscles tight, but not this tight. I better ease off.” I’ve thought that if only I could talk more directly to that part of the brain we could come to some kind of agreement about the need for this muscle tension.
Well, I had a chance to test out this theory recently with a client. She had been in an accident over a year ago and was seeing chiropractors on a weekly basis for her whiplash. I had been seeing her every other week for months, doing related neck work. I have a pretty good arsenal of neck techniques and there would always be some improvement, but invariably the next time I saw her she would be back to a pain level of 4 or 5 out 10 with a very limited range of motion. Her doctor had sent me copies of her MRI, so I knew there wasn’t any physical limitation. I "knew" this because the doctor said so, since I personally can’t make much sense out of an MRI. :-)
On one visit I asked if she would be willing to try hypnosis, and she was. I asked her at what age did she have the most flexibility in her neck movements, and she said age 14. Apparently her first in a series of car accidents was after that. I helped her into a hypnotic state, and I let her know that she would be able to speak from that part of herself that controls the muscles of her neck.
I then asked: “Is there any reason you are not able to move your neck the way you could when you were 14”
Me: “What is the reason?”
Her: “The pain”
Me: “Is the pain serving any purpose?”
Her: “Yes, energy” ( I was a bit shocked, as I was expecting that we’d be negotiating some kind of safety concerns )
Me: “Is there anything that you could use instead of pain as a source of energy”
Her: “Yes, enthusiasm” ( Nice )
Me: “Would you be willing to swap enthusiasm for the pain as a source of energy?” ( fingers crossed )
Me: “Please make that swap now”
After a few seconds I then asked her to slowly move her head as far to the right as she felt comfortable. Her chin was almost over her right shoulder. I then asked her to slowly move her head as far to the left as she felt comfortable. Again, her chin was now almost over her left shoulder. After coming back up we did some of the usual manual neck work. She reported no pain and could now move her neck farther than I can.
The next day she sent me a text that she felt happy and excited. It’s been a couple of months now, and I’ve seen her several times for other hypnosis sessions, and several times for massage. Her neck has occasionally been a little tight, but nothing like before, and now it responds well to manual treatment.
It's interesting to me that she had been using pain as a source of energy, like coffee. This made me wonder how many other chronic pain suffers might unknowingly have this kind of unwanted internal arrangement. It was very encouraging to learn that sometimes all we have to do is ask!