How can Guided Imagery Benefit People with Chronic Pain?


Guided imagery is a meditative practice that can induce relaxation and calm the mind. It is used as a tool to ease stress and anxiety, but many practitioners suggest that guided imagery can be beneficial for people with chronic pain, too. 

In this article, we’ll explore what guided imagery is and how it can be used to help people living with chronic pain. Read on to better understand this pain management tool, from the perspective of research, and learn how you can get started with guided imagery

A man lays down on the couch, wearing white headphones. His eyes are closed as he listens to a guided imagery meditation.

What is guided imagery?

Guided imagery involves using the mind to immerse yourself into a calm state. During guided imagery, you often listen to audio that helps you picture a pleasant scene in your mind. The audio guide will help you create an imaginary oasis using your senses to make it seem real to your brain. 

A beautiful lush garden with blue skies and a pond

Being in a beautiful, calm, safe place mentally can help to physically and emotionally relax you. Sometimes, the guide will lead you through an exercise to help you cope with your challenges. For example, casting away a stone that signifies the problem that’s causing you distress. 

In general, guided imagery is used for relaxation, stress management, and to ease any stress-related symptoms. People living with chronic pain can benefit from guided imagery. 

How can guided imagery help with chronic pain?

Stress and tension and exacerbate chronic pain; so, relaxation is a vital pain management tool. Guided imagery can facilitate release of stress and tension. Further, visualizing pain can also aid in reducing it. 

Practitioners may use guided imagery to help calm an individual with chronic pain. But, intentional visualization involving controlling and minimizing pain can lead to actual physical improvements. Picturing yourself being able to control your pain may give you a greater sense of control in real life. For instance, visualizing your pain as a giant red ball, then squishing it down into a tiny green pea, could help shift your perception of your ability to live alongside pain.

An older woman sits crossed legged on the floor with her eyes closed. There's a laptop in front of her, leading her through guided imagery.

Studies have shown that the use of guided imagery for chronic pain has led to reductions in the stress hormone, cortisol. People living with chronic pain often have elevated cortisol levels, as persistent pain is a stressful experience. However, cortisol causes inflammation, which worsens pain. So, having a technique that can reduce cortisol levels, and improve inflammation, can help manage pain. 

When used for people with Arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation, guided imagery reduced levels of pain, improved overall functioning and movement, and decreased the need for pain medications. 

Read the next section for more research summarizing the benefits of guided imagery for pain. 

Research from studies that explore guided imagery for pain management

In a randomized control trial studying the effect of guided imagery on people with Fibromyalgia, researchers found that guided imagery gave the participants a greater sense of control over their pain. The pain intensity did not decrease, but the participants showed improvements in self-efficacy and functioning. 

This suggests that the guided imagery helped the participants better cope with the realities of chronic pain. Having this sense of control leads to better commitment to self-management practices and more engagement in daily activities. 

Another randomized control trial explored the effectiveness of guided imagery in reducing post-op pain and anxiety for adolescents after spinal-fusion surgery. They found that guided imagery led to a reduction in post-op pain, supporting recovery. Additionally, they observed a reduction in the level of interference that pain had on daily functioning. 

Although this study investigated acute pain, it has important implications for the use of guided imagery, alongside other treatments, for recovery and healing purposes. 

Finally, a literature review summarized the effectiveness of guided imagery for cancer patients with pain. Overall, the included studies showed that guided imagery was associated with reductions in pain and pain-related distress. Used with other treatments, it was further supported as a complementary tool for pain management.

Each of these studies mentioned that guided imagery mostly improved the participants ability to cope with the challenges of pain. Despite changes in pain, improved coping skills are extremely valuable for pain management. 

How to use guided imagery as a tool in your pain management

If this article has inspired you to try it, here are some ways you can begin using guided imagery for pain management. 

You can find guided imagery videos on Youtube or through mental health/meditation apps. There are several resources online to try. Here, we have a library of videos, including guided meditations that utilize guided imagery. For example, we have some focused on healing, self-love, progressive muscle relaxation, or finding your peaceful place. 

A young woman sits by a lake wearing headphones. Her eyes are closed and she's smiling while listening to a guided meditation.

They’re usually only 10-15 minutes long. Grab your headphones and get into a comfortable position. Then, close your eyes and listen. The best tip for finding the most benefit is to be open to the experience. If you’re skeptical or closed-minded, it won’t work as well. You must let go and surrender. 

Once you try a few, you’ll discover what works well for you and you can start searching for others like it. For example, perhaps you really enjoy guided meditations for tension release. Or, you may enjoy a more immersive experience that helps you build a fantasy getaway. 

To reap the benefits of this practice, it must be a consistent part of your pain management tool kit. So, build it into your routine. It may help to attach it to a different habit that is already strong. For instance, you may like to practice guided imagery after a shower, before bed. Or, you could take a 10-minute break after lunch to focus inward. Regardless, make time for it regularly. 


In conclusion, guided imagery is a helpful tool to relax your mind and body. It may even lead to a greater sense of control over your chronic pain. 

Let us know if you’ve tried this and if you enjoy it! What resources do you use? Share them in the comments, it may help someone out who wants to try it for the first time. 

Don’t forget to check out our guided meditation videos. Additionally, if you liked this article, you may enjoy our free eLearning Course, Supporting Your Mental Health. It has tons of information about self-care and ways to prioritize your emotional wellbeing. To take that course, log in with either a free or paid account. 

Take care! 


Arthritis Foundation (n.d.) Guided Imagery for Arthritis Pain. Retrieved from:

Charette, S., Lachance Fiola, J., Charest, M.C., et al. (2015). Guided Imagery for Adolescent Post-spinal Fusion Pain Management: a Pilot Study. Pain Management Nursing, 16(3): 211-220. doi: 

King, K. (2010). A Review of the Effects of Guided Imagery on Cancer Patients with Pain. Complementary Health Practice Review, 15(2): 98-107. doi:

Menzies, V., Taylor, A. G., & Bourguignon, C. (2006). Effects of guided imagery on outcomes of pain, functional status, and self-efficacy in persons diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine, 12(1), 23–30.

Nunez, K. (September 10, 2020). The Benefits of Guided Imagery and How To Do It. Healthline. Retrieved from:

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