New Study Provides Clues on Using Imagery To Relieve Pain and Anxiety in Children

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Where do children's imaginations most often take them when they're trying to escape pain or anxiety? For most kids, it's to play in the park, according to a new study by a nurse researcher at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center who studies the use of imagery in reducing pain, fear and anxiety in children.

The study, conducted by Myra Huth, PhD, RN, assistant vice president of nursing research at Cincinnati Children's, was intended to understand not only where children's imaginations take them but also the content and number of senses used in imagery. In a previously published study, Dr. Huth determined that children who used an imagery tape reported significantly lower pain after surgery than those who didn't use the tape.

'When treating pain in children, we should appeal not only to the senses but also to feelings and emotions," says Dr. Huth. "Pain medications should be used in conjunction with these comfort techniques."

The study is published in the current issue (April) of the Journal of Pediatric Nursing. In the study, 75 children between the ages of 7 and 12 listened to a guided imagery audio tape before and after tonsillectomy surgery. Children kept diaries of their experiences with the tape before surgery and after discharge.

"Children most often imagined going to the park, most likely because of suggestions in the tape," says Dr. Huth. "But the tape also enabled them to imagine they were going to another favorite place. Many children imagined they were going to the amusement park, swimming pools and lakes, and they used the tape to sleep and just to relax."

Three out of four children changed the content of their imagery over time. For example, one child first went to a park, then to a swimming pool and finally to a swing in her backyard. The study also found that most children were able to imagine three to four senses. That is, they were able to imagine sights, sounds, smells and feelings.

"Listening to what children tell us about their imagery experience gives nurses and parents insight into what children imagine and their ability to imagine," says Dr. Huth. "Caregivers need to do a better job of incorporating this information into their standard practice."

The study was supported in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Cincinnati Children's is a 423-bed institution devoted to bringing the world the joy of healthier kids. Cincinnati Children's is dedicated to transforming the way health care is delivered by providing care that is timely, efficient, effective, family-centered, equitable and safe. It ranks third nationally among all pediatric centers in research grants from the National Institutes of Health. The Cincinnati Children's vision is to be the leader in improving child health.

Contact Information

Jim Feuer, 513-636-4656, jim.feuer@cchmc.org