Researchers at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, Devon, UK, performed a systematic review of the literature to determine the efficacy of guided imagery as a treatment for musculoskeletal pain (MSP).

Six databases were searched from inception up through May 2010. All controlled clinical trials were considered, if they investigated GI in patients with any MSP in any anatomic location, and if they assessed pain as an outcome measure. Trials of motor imagery were excluded. The selection of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by 2 reviewers.

Nine randomized clinical trials (RCTs) met the inclusion criteria. Their methodologic quality ranged between 1 and 3 on the Jadad scale. Eight randomized, controlled trials suggested that guided imagery leads to a significant reduction of musculoskeletal pain.  One RCT indicated no change in MSP in comparison with usual care.

The investigators conclude that there are too few rigorous RCTs testing the effectiveness of GI in the management of MSP, but that the evidence that GI alleviates MSP is encouraging.

Citation:  Posadzki P, Ernst E. Guided Imagery for Musculoskeletal Pain: A Systematic Review. Clinical Journal of Pain. 2011 Mar 22. [Epub ahead of print]