They said their findings suggest that hypnotic intervention could deliver “meaningful pain relief for most people” and, therefore, may be an “effective and safe alternative” to drug intervention.
“This is by far the largest review of its kind and presents very compelling evidence”
The analysis, led by psychologist Dr Trevor Thompson from the University of Greenwich, found that hypnosis was more effective with people who are especially amenable to suggestion.
However, it also found that those who were moderately suggestible – essentially most people – saw a 29% drop in pain after hypnosis.
Data was used from 85 studies across 14 countries, with a total of 3,632 people subjected to different forms of pain stimulation including extreme cold, heat, pressure, exercise and even lasers.
People typically rated the pain they felt as 5.5 on a scale of zero to 10, according to the study published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews.
According to the researchers, a five level of pain would significantly disrupt daily lives and have most people using medication.
Dr Thompson said: “This is by far the largest review of its kind, examining the effects of hypnosis in over 3,500 people, and presents very compelling evidence.
“About 15% of the population are highly receptive to hypnosis, and those people saw just over a 40% drop in pain,” he noted.
“Based on these findings, most people would experience around a 30% drop in pain or more, which is generally considered to be clinically meaningful pain relief,” he said.
Dr Thompson highlighted that the misuse of prescription painkillers such as codeine and fentanyl had increased massively over recent years and was a crisis in some countries, most notably the US.
“Our findings suggest hypnosis could be a safe and effective alternative,” he said. “It can be administered quickly, cheaply and easily at home with a 20-minute audio recording.”
He added: “The next step is to extensively test hypnosis on people with chronic pain, such as back conditions, which people live with every day.
“Available data on this are not of a high enough quality or quantity,” he said. “We need to go and try this with people in their day-to-day lives.”