Hypnosis to treat CRPS: new research

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We have considered previously the well known work of Dr David Flemming and the possible role that hypnosis can play in the treatment of CRPS.

Dr Flemming’s work dates back to the early 1990s and seems to confirm that for some people with CRPS – but crucially not everybody – hypnosis, if used as part of a multimodal approach to treatment, can be successful in reducing symptoms or even in a number of cases achieving remission. It’s well known that some people are more susceptible to hypnosis than others. That’s why stage hypnotists choose their subjects with care.

In terms of the mechanism at work, the theory is that the images generated in the subject’s mind by way of hypnosis can in some way act to alter the function of the autonomic nervous system.

Crucially, Dr Flemming is keen to stress that “a lay hypnotist can cause serious damage by attempting to coax remission without addressing the [related] psychological issues. This work requires extreme skill and must be taken very seriously.

New research

Now, in the journal, Hand Surgery and Rehabilitation, researchers from Toulouse, France have published the results of a new, small-scale study, “Physical therapy under hypnosis for the treatment of patients with type 1 complex regional pain syndrome of the hand and wrist: Retrospective study of 20 cases”.

As the title suggests, the aim of the study was to assess the effectiveness of undertaking physical therapy on the affected hand and wrist whilst under the effect of hypnotherapy. All patients were in the relatively early stages of CRPS: 13 at Stage 1 and 7 at Stage 2. The reported results seem impressive. After an average of 5.4 sessions, pain, function and analgesic use was reduced and “return to work was possible in 80% of the cases.

In conclusion, the researchers reported that “All patients were satisfied or very satisfied with the treatment. Physical therapy under hypnosis appears to be an effective treatment for CRPS-1 at the wrist and hand no matter the etiology.

Further research

My concern is that this was a very small-scale study of people in the early stages of CRPS, a proportion of whom may have achieved remission in any event. However, when viewed alongside Dr Flemming’s research, it does at least add further weight to the argument that larger-scale studies are very much warranted.

Of course, as a non-pharmaceutical therapy, the deep pockets of the drug companies are not going to fund that further research, which also likely explains, at least in part, the current dearth of available material on this subject.

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