EFT For Pain Relief - What Is It All About?

'Is Tapping And Positive Thought Really Enough?'

By Definition

EFT or the ‘Emotional Freedom Techinique’ works on the theory that by tapping on certain points around your body you can release all sorts of negative patterns including physical pain.

EFT for pain relief is a relatively new concept, but as a pain specialist, any new pain relief is worth considering…

Mind and Body Symbolic Image

As a pain specialist, it is fair to assume that I have written a fair number of articles, including some on this website, about the power of the brain to alter clinical outcomes.

Whether you look at cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis or the host of other ‘mindfulness techniques’, it is clear that altering your outlook creates a mental response that can instigate a physical one too.

Much of this response is also covered under what we all know as the ‘placebo effect’.

This is uniquely different in it’s typical application, but sets out under much the same principle.

About Us

What Is EFT?

The emotional freedom technique relies on a combination of acupressure (similar to acupuncture but without needles piercing the skin) and psychology.

By tapping on certain ‘energy meridians’ on your body, the theory goes that you can change your fears, negative patterns and basic beliefs.

Image of a woman tapping on the top of her head while practicing EFT

Then having learned the detail, all you really need to do is remember the exact point that you need to tap regularly for whatever it is you want to achieve.

EFT For Pain Relief – How It Works.

According to various EFT therapists, negative emotions are a major contributor to pain. These negative emotions are said to release stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline.

By tapping on certain ‘pain points’ you are said to be able to release your emotional attachment to pain and thus no longer be affected by it (the pain).

You start the process by writing down an honest review of your pain levels. This can then be reviewed at the end.

You then move in to the physical side by touching simple points such as your knees or face, and speaking out loud a repeated love for yourself. Then you move on to different points complaining about your pain, before finally moving on again to wish the pain away.

Phase 1 – Acceptance Of Yourself

Then you begin the physical treatment by tapping one of the designated areas (listed below) with three fingers, while saying out loud the following –

(tap on a body part while saying out loud….)
“Even though I have all this pain, I deeply love and accept myself”

(You then tap a different area as prescribed and say out loud…)
“I love and accept myself always and without exception”

Phase 2 – Addressing Your Pain

(tap on a body part while saying out loud….)
“I cannot handle this pain”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“All this pain is holding me back”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I hate being in pain”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“All this pain is driving me crazy”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I cant move forward while I’m in pain”

Phase 3 – Making A Wish

(move to next body part and speak out loud….)
“I wish my pain would go away”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“It makes me sad that I cant live without pain”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I know there is a better way”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I know I can get rid of this pain right now”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I wont be a victim of this pain anymore”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I can release this pain now”

Phase 4 – Moving Forward

(tap on a body part while saying out loud….)
“I now let go of this pain”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“Through my breath I get rid of this pain”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I will not hold on to this pain forever”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I will release this pain now”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I’m ready to release my pain now”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I feel better already”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I’m free from pain”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I let go of this pain right now”

(move to next body part and speak out loud)
“I will feel pain no more”

Pain Points –

Various authors in the different guides/ videos that I watched while researching this area (as I’m a pain specialist, not an EFT practitioner) typically used the following points for ‘tapping’ –

  • Wrist
  • Just Above An Eyebrow
  • Side Of The Eye
  • Under the Eye
  • Under The Nose
  • On The Chin
  • Collar Bone
  • Under The Arm
  • Top Of The Head

Mindfulness road sign

The Case For EFT and Pain Relief.

According to the ‘tappers’, doctors and ‘western culture’ has got pain all wrong. Pain has a much bigger basis in our emotions than we understand.

Frequently our minds can bury emotional pain from the past (such as a tough childhood, a parent dying or a major disappointment). According to ‘The Tapping Solution’ 

“Over time, those repressed emotions limit oxygen supply to your muscles. That oxygen deprivation then leads to muscle constriction, which spreads to nearby muscles. As time goes on, when your muscles remain tight and constricted, you experience pain.”

Now I am a huge proponent of the power of the brain to heal your body and the placebo effect/ self-hypnosis and a range of mindful techniques are evidence that it can work, but this explanation seemed a bit far for me.

We do though know that altering the brain’s thought pattern can dramatically change the way the body works.

Oxygen deprivation though, seems a bit far – especially as that would assume everybody with ‘repressed emotions’ would have a similar physique.

Indeed the explanation above would imply that body builders/ professional wrestlers could never suffer repressed emotions or depression because their body would virtually collapse due to the expected ‘muscle constriction’

However, for a whole range of reasons, we know depression and serious pain levels are particularly prevalent in both of those professions.

The other concern I had with this approach is that most of the major practitioners were selling themselves based on miracle testimonies.

Unfortunately I can’t help but be sceptical when I see wheeled out various ‘patient’ testimonies about how years of chronic pain were solved in minutes.

Why? Partly because we have no way of knowing if the person is real, or if they are – are they related to the company?

Then even if they are completely neutral, we know from numerous clinical trials that some people’s placebo effect can be huge.

A patient testimony is never a truly unbiased trial.

EFT and Pain Relief – The Data and The Research.

The simple truth behind EFT and Pain relief when it comes to clinical data is there is a surprisingly large quantity of research behind it.

Given how many areas of fairly ‘new’ pain relief that have little or no research in their corner, the emotional freedom technique is positively flooded.

As noted by Bach et al in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, there are over 100 studies demonstrating it’s efficacy. 

However, as further eluded to the vast majority of this research is in to the benefit of EFT for psychological issues.

“….its efficacy for anxiety, depression, phobias and PTSD is well-established.”

But when it comes to EFT and pain relief unfortunately, the research is far less clear.

“….information about the physiological effects of EFT is limited.”

The study itself sought to look at the effect of EFT on a range of physical factors including blood pressure and resting heart rate.

The results were positive, but again had numerous limitations and no direct implication pain relief.

One such study that did attempt to look at the effects of EFT on chronic pain was published, ironically, in the Energy Psychology Journal.

The results did show a significant improvement in pain levels, but unfortunately this was not maintained in the long-run when measured again after 6 months (with gains lost except for a greater feeling of ‘life control’).

It was also a small trial at just 50 participants and also noted the lack of other evidence around the physical impact of EFT specifically on pain levels.

The final trial that I would bring to your attention is that carried out on fibromyalgia patients (chronic pain) published in ‘Integrative Medicine’ in 2008 . This again showed improvements in pain levels, control and mental coping.

However, once again the numbers were small (86), and the dropout rate was very large, which immediately calls in to question the validity of any result (more people will typically drop out if either they don’t get results, for whatever reason).

Of those that did complete it though, the outcomes for pain management looked promising.

So Does EFT Work For Pain Relief?

Using my judgement as a pain specialist, I will give it a very cautious yes.

I do not buy in to the ‘energy meridians’ that tappers talk about as having some sort of mystical power.

However, it has been proved time and time, that if you can convince your brain to undervalue your pain, you will feel your pain is less. There is evidence of this in everything from hypnosis to cognitive behavioural therapy to the ‘Feldenkrais method’ or the ‘Alexander Technique’.

Every time it is the brain that reduces the perceived transmission of pain – if it is told often enough that there are no pain signals to transmit.

As for the tapping, well if you accept that tapping above your eye is no more or less relevant than tapping below your eye when it comes to back pain (for example) then it is just a simple distraction.

Distraction is also a well known pain management strategy in the sense that the more you concentrate on your pain the worse it will feel.

Similarly, focus on something else and the effect of your pain is minimised.

A lot of people will not accept that just telling themselves regularly that their pain is reduced, will actually reduce it.

So by giving them a physical action – an area to tap, you give them something to believe in. A focus to explain any benefits.

The other consideration must be the amount of EFT therapists and sellable guides that rely on a competitive difference. ‘Tapping’ is the difference that separates the emotional freedom technique from other methods.

However, given that there is very little evidence around the importance of where you tap, the act of tapping becomes one of reinforcement alone.

This reinforcement should not be underestimated because, as explained above, it can be essential to fostering belief in some people. Without the belief it wont work at all, so it easy to see how important the tapping is – just not for any clinical benefit.

The Final Word –

When it comes to using EFT for pain relief we have to keep coming back to the facts – yes EFT should work in the way that many mindful techniques work, but the ‘tapping’ is oversold and more of ‘prop’ to make people believe in some kind of ‘magic’.

In fairness this may be harmless, and we do still have to accept that EFT should have some impact on pain levels, even when most studies show only short-term benefits.

However, the complete lack of evidence behind the tapping points and pain relief, can only lead me to conclude that while it most likely does work for some people, it is not the tapping itself that makes it work but the psychological enforcement.

This then is psychological only and EFT is no more or less effective than other similar techniques.

Is it worth trying? Absolutely. There are plenty of free guides that will talk you through the basics if you decide to do it.

The concept behind it is solid, just don’t get too concerned about where you tap – just tapping your wrist and your knee at different phases would achieve the same result.

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References –

1. Blog. ‘thetappingsolution.com’.
2. Donna Bach, ND, Gary Groesbeck, BCIA, Peta Stapleton, PhD, Rebecca Sims, MCP, Katharina Blickheuser, PhD, and Dawson Church, PhD. (Feb 2019). Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Improves Multiple Physiological Markers of Health. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine
3. Nick Ortner, Julie Palmer-Hoffman and Morgan Ann Clond. (Nov 2014) Effects of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) on the Reduction of Chronic Pain in Adults: A Pilot Study. Energy Psychology Journal
4. Gunilla Brattberg. (August 2008). Self-administered EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) in individuals with fibromyalgia: A randomized trial. Integrative Medicine.

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