Thousands of people are believed to suffer pain in different parts of the body which, despite numerous tests and often costly investigations, cannot be explained by doctors.
Researchers from University College London and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre in the US have used hypnotism to show that some pains which cannot be traced to a medical condition may have an origin in the brain.
Eight volunteers in the US took part in the study, published in the journal NeuroImage, with their brain activity measured using a scanner under different conditions.
The researchers found that those who felt pain as a result of hypnotic suggestion showed strikingly similar brain activity to those subjected to physical pain – created using pulses of heat applied to their hand.
But when the volunteers were asked to simply imagine that they felt the same pain they had significantly different brain activity than under hypnotised and physical pain conditions.
Dr David Oakley, director of UCL?s Hypnosis Unit, said: “The fact that hypnosis was able to induce a genuine painful experience suggests that some pain really can begin in our minds. People reporting this type of pain are not simply imagining it.”