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Can Positive Imagery Training Improve Pain Perception?

These images are from Deborah Padfield’s book Perception of Pain. She collaborated with pain patients to help create visual tools to enable them to communicate their pain experience to medical professionals and loved ones. She did this because people living with chronic pain often experience their pain as images. They visualise their pain as something that threatens their safety; as something dangerous, menacing and overpowering. This index image reinforces the idea that they have lost control of their life and that their pain dictates what they can and can't do. I would like to see whether positive imagery training can improve a person's pain perception. The underpinning idea behind positive imagery training is that it overrides existing danger messages that negative imagery creates. Though the exact mechanism isn’t entirely understood it is possible that through increasing a sense of safety and personal control, positive imagery may increase a person's descending inhibition and thus decrease their pain.

A potential example is this live wire that is sparking with electricity. It represents a person’s neuropathic pain. With a participant we would work together to create an image that conquers this live wire. We might possibly imagine the live wire covered in sand, with the sand pouring down the body to the spot where the zaps are felt. The body part would get heavier with each breath, as more and more sand piled on top of the sparks, submerging the wire entirely. Or, we could imagine the wire reconnecting, reforming and merging with the other end. The two would swirl and curl around each other, reforming, healing and mending and turning into a smooth new wire. An insulated wire that carries information around the body quickly and easily.

Here is an example of an imagery exercise that I created with a friend. She chose to imagine the warmth of sunshine, sitting by a fire, and a loving hug to ease her back pain. She chose a cool soothing balm to ease the pain in her thigh. She chose God’s love swirling around her brain to ease anxiety and overwhelm.

I am looking for volunteers to help me explore this concept further for my dissertation in pain management through UCL. I hope that involvement not only reduces pain for participants but results in the development of a tool to help people manage their pain. The benefit of this approach is that it is cheap, has no side effects, can be used anywhere, and at any time.

The format will consist of three individual video sessions lasting up to ninety minutes scheduled over ten weeks. The intervention will include a home treatment component - I will encourage you to practice your ten minute imagery exercise three times a week during the intervention period and when experiencing pain flares. I will ask you to note down each time you do this. You do not have to answer any questions or discuss any topics that make you feel uncomfortable. You can withdraw from the study at any time.

If you, or someone you know might want to give this a try please contact me. I look forward to helping give you a sense of control over your pain.




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