Guided Imagery, Visualization, and Hypnosis May Speed Injury Healing

injury healing

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Can you speed up the body's healing process using your mind? Techniques such as guided imagery, or self-hypnosis, and visualization not only help athletes perform well during competition but research continues to find that it may be possible to speed up the healing process by using specific mental skills and techniques and maintaining a positive mindset. Researchers have been studying how the mind influences healing for decades, and the results continue to find a genuine connection.

A qualitative analysis, of the use of imagery by injured athletes, concluded that "the implementation of imagery alongside physical rehabilitation should enhance the rehabilitation experience and, therefore, facilitate the recovery rates of injured athletes."

Another study looked at the differences in people who healed quickly and those who healed slowly and found some significant differences. Those who healed faster had the following characteristics:

  • Took personal responsibility for their recovery process
  • Had high motivation, desire, and determination
  • Had more social support
  • Maintained a positive attitude
  • Frequently used imagery and other visualization techniques.
  • Expected a full and successful return to sports

What is Imagery?

One specific technique that is often used in sports psychology, and in healing is called imagery. This is sometimes referred to as guided imagery, mental rehearsal, or self-hypnosis.

These are all terms used to describe specific techniques that use all of the senses to create mental images, feelings, and sensations related to the desired outcome as though it is happening now or has already happened. By using all your senses to create this authentic experience of having the desired outcome, you mentally, and physically rehearse this desired state.

Research on imagery use by injured athletes, cancer patients, and those undergoing physical rehabilitation has shown that using imagery has many positive outcomes, including:

  • Increased feelings of control
  • Increased rate of healing
  • Enhanced ability to cope with therapy
  • Increased motivation to participate in self-care
  • Improved mood
  • Improved quality of life
  • Decreased post-operative pain
  • Decreased post-operative anxiety
  • Reduced length of time in the hospital
  • Reduced amount of pain medication taken

When to Use Imagery Techniques

There are many uses of imagery or self-hypnosis in sports medicine. These techniques are useful in injury recovery, pain reduction, sports performance enhancement, and general stress management. There are possibly many more uses that haven't yet been studied.

Imagery for Pain Reduction

The idea behind using imagery for pain reduction is built upon the principle of relaxation. When muscles are relaxed, they hold less tension. This often leads to reductions in the experience of pain. Imagery techniques that often help increase relaxation and reduce pain include imagining the sensation of getting a massage, sitting on a warm beach, or taking a hot bath.

Some people have success with imagery by imagining the pain being released from the body in a visual way, such as being breathed out with each exhalation. If you mentally rehearse experiences such as this in great detail, you are using imagery.

Imagery for Healing

Just as people use imagery for reducing pain, individuals have reported that similar techniques work for promoting healing and recovery. Examples of healing imagery include imaging a broken bone being glued back together or torn muscles are woven back together. Some people use warm, healing colors to promote a feeling of warmth over a body part. Even silly images of strength and power found in comic books have been used successfully to aid healing.

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Article Sources

  • Driediger, M., Hall, C., Callow, N. "Imagery Use by Injured Athletes: A Qualitative Analysis." Journal of Sports Sciences, March 2006

  • Evans, L. Hare, R., and Mullen, R. "Imagery Use During Rehabilitation From Injury." Journal of Imagery Research in Sport and Physical Activity, Vol. 1. 2006

  • Ievleva, Orlick. "Mental Links to Enhanced Healing: An Exploratory Study." TSP, 5(1), March 1991.