Floating to Reduce Pain

Pain - Floating really is a pain reduction technique, thanks to our natural response to relaxation.

Pain is a mysterious feeling. While it's value in avoiding injury is obvious, it is not always obvious what benefit it has in chronic pain. However our bodies have natural pain killers which are just as effective, in fact often much more effective than drugs. They are called endorphins, a class of hormones. Hormones are very powerful chemical messengers which control all aspects of our bodies. We do not have conscious control of them but they work for us all the time.

Now here is the good news. Floating in warm water automatically causes profound relaxation. Profound relaxation causes the brain to release endorphins which control pain. That's how floating in a float tank reduces pain. This effect is powerful and has been demonstrated in research, and experienced many, many times by pain sufferers.

Many float customers who have tried floating to relieve pain find to their amazement a relief that they can live with reduced levels of pain killing drugs or with no pain killers at all. This after many years dependency sometimes.

Endorphins are also released in vigorous exercise, this may be a natural and useful defense against pain in "fight or flight" situations. However it is not always easy or possible to use exercise to "work out" pain. Floating on the other hand is as peaceful and safe as any activity you can imagine. In fact floating in a float tank must rank as just about the safest thing you can do, safer than bed rest which often is not a cure for pain. Bed rest always involves contact pressure which shuts off the blood flow locally requiring you to move and adjust your posture regularly. Tossing and turning is not good for pain relief!

Floating is a perfectly still experience with no contact points, no movement, no postural muscle action. The release of endorphins to kill pain is a completely natural and powerful effect working alongside natural healing and repair processes.


The following is reproduced from notes by the Swedish Research Council 05.11.2003

Relaxation in a flotation tank brings peace and quiet, increased well-being, and reduced pain.

A new dissertation shows that relaxation in a flotation tank can serve as an alternative form of treatment to reduce stress or relieve persistent pain, and it has no side-effects whatsoever. 
In times like these, we are surrounded by stress and troubled by burn-out. Stress seems to retain its place as the greatest enemy to good health, well-being, and self-esteem. A major international field of research is now focusing on neurogenesis, that is, the generation of new nerve cells. This is against the background of our losing an estimated several thousand nerve cells per day. It has been known for the last few years that the formation of new nerve cells is constant. The latest findings about neurogenesis indicate that stress blocks the new formation of nerve cells and that relaxation, regular exercise, and an interesting environment increase and optimize the capacity for this. In most studies that have appeared, increased neurogenesis has been related to enhanced creative and intellectual performance. 

To lie on your back and float in a tank filled with salt water induces extremely deep and pleasurable relaxation. It is dark and quiet in the tank, which enables maximum relaxation and well-being. To sink into deep relaxation, 45 minutes is a suitable length of time in the tank. 

Patients with chronic muscle flexing pains in their neck who have been regularly treated with flotation-tank relaxation for three weeks experience a reduction in pain. After this treatment they also feel much happier and have less anxiety, alongside finding it easier to get to sleep at night. Blood samples taken before and after this period of treatment indicate that the count of stress-related hormones (MHPG) has declined. These studies have been carried out at the Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Psychology, Karlstad University. 

People in pain are not the only ones who can benefit from floating in a tank. Anyone looking for an environment that can help reduce stress or lend a moment of pleasant relaxation will find this technique helpful. It has been shown that after treatment in the flotation tank, subjects experience greater creativity: the number of new and original thoughts increases after a session in the tank. It has also been experienced as beneficial to spend some time by oneself in peace and quiet, perhaps to think thoughts or experience feelings that are crowded out of stressful everyday consciousness. Many people experience that they attain a pleasant state between dreaming and waking or a state of daydreaming and fantasy. 

Almost everyone who has tried floating in a tank thinks that it is pleasant and agreeable, and they want to do it again. Problems associated with the fear of feeling closed in are extremely slight. For those who might be concerned about this, there is the possibility of leaving a light on or of having the door to the tank remain partly or fully open during the session. The knowledge that you can get up and leave any time probably also helps create a feeling of security. 

Taken altogether, this raises hopes that relaxation in a flotation tank can become an alternative form of treatment to reduce stress or alleviate chronic pain, with the help of a method that is safe and entirely without side-effects. If the flotation tank reduces stress, then this must have major consequences for the rejuvenation of nerve cells in those parts of the brain (hippocampus) that are primarily associated with health and intellectual capacity. 

Author of dissertation: 
Anette Kjellgren

Title of dissertation: 
The experience of flotation-REST (Restricted environmental stimulation technique):Consciousness, subjective stress and pain

Doctoral dissertation at Göteborg University 2003
Department of Psychology, Göteborg University, Sweden.