Guided imagery for non-musculoskeletal pain: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2012 Jul;44(1):95-104. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2011.07.014. Epub 2012 Jun 5.


Context: Our previous review of the literature concluded that there is encouraging evidence that guided imagery alleviates musculoskeletal pain, but the value of guided imagery in the management of non-musculoskeletal pain remains uncertain.

Objectives: The objective of this systematic review was to assess the effectiveness of guided imagery as a treatment option for non-musculoskeletal pain.

Methods: Six databases were searched from their inception to February 2011. Randomized clinical trials were considered if they investigated guided imagery in human patients with any type of non-musculoskeletal pain in any anatomical location and assessed pain as a primary outcome measure. Trials of motor imagery and hypnosis were excluded. The selection of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers.

Results: Fifteen randomized clinical trials met the inclusion criteria. Their methodological quality was generally poor. Eleven trials found that guided imagery led to a significant reduction of non-musculoskeletal pain. Four studies found no change in non-musculoskeletal pain with guided imagery in comparison with progressive relaxation, standard care, or no treatment.

Conclusion: The evidence that guided imagery alleviates non-musculoskeletal pain is encouraging but remains inconclusive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Management / psychology
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome