Category Archives: Sensory Deprivation

Is There a Link Between Prolonged Psychological Stress And Physical Pain?

Featured Image of the ocean near the beach in the sun taken by myself. 

Dear Pain Matters blog readers,

Prolonged psychological stress can perpetuate chronic pain in some patients, while other people may be prone to chronic inflammatory diseases including cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, depression, autoimmune diseases, upper respiratory infections and poor wound healing ability.

Immune cells are normally very sensitive to circulating stress hormones (glucocorticoids including cortisol), and as such, are usually able to shut down the pro-inflammatory response in the presence of glucocorticoids.

Chronic psychological stress can reduce the circulating stress hormone’s ability to interact with its receptor leading to glucocorticoid receptor resistance (GCR).

Repeated and ongoing exposure to a long-term threatening (real or imagined) and stressful experience can lead to insufficient glucocorticoid regulation (i.e. GCR), that in turn can lead to:

  • Insufficient control over the inflammatory response towards an infection;
  • Increased duration and/or intensity of the pro-inflammatory response; and
  • Increased pain levels and other signs and symptoms of chronic diseases.  

Studies have shown that some chronic stress sufferers (e.g. parents of children with cancer, spouses of patients with brain cancer and lonely people) present with GCR (Cohen et al, 2012).

Other Biomechanisms that Influence the Pro-Inflammatory Response and its Key Role in Maintaining Chronic Pain and Inflammation-Based Diseases:

See this Blog Post for more information:

What Can Done To Reduce Prolonged Psychological Stress?:

Steps must urgently be taken to reduce repeated and ongoing exposure to a prolonged threatening (real or imagined) and stressful experience.

This brings us to all those therapies that may induce the ‘relaxation response’ and/or lead one to a calmer disposition including:


Any therapy that can induce the ‘relaxation response’ is key to diverting attention away from repeated and ongoing psychological stress.

This will strengthen the immune cells’ ability to interact with circulating stress hormones (glucocorticoids including cortisol) and shut down an exaggerated pro-inflammatory response.

Conventional pharmacological treatment also plays an important role in reducing excessive inflammation.  The effectiveness of pharmacological drugs may be further enhanced by the body’s ‘relaxation response’, leading to lower drug dosages and fewer adverse effects.

The body’s innate ability to properly control a pro-inflammatory response is key to warding off chronic pain and disease.

Sabina Walker

“Sedare dolorem divinum opus est”
“It is divine to alleviate pain”

Galen, 130-200 C.E.



(1) Study Finds Link Between Stress And Physical Pain

Huffington Post (03 April 2012)


(2) Clynes, Manfred

Sentics: The Touch of Emotions

250 pp, Doubleday/Anchor, New York, 1977 – Chapter 9 only

Peer-Reviewed Paper

(3) Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Doyle WJ, et al.

Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2012;109(16):5995-5999.



Can Sensory Deprivation via Float Therapy Offer Pain Relief for Fibromyalgia and Other Chronic Pain Conditions?

Featured Image (top) taken by Sabina Walker, author of this blog, Pain Matters.

(Yes, I was doing my own ‘float therapy’ in the ocean…and I captured the moment…)

Last year, I met a woman in her 50’s who had fibromyalgia.  I learned more about fibromyalgia from her than from any textbook.  She told me that ‘while she has to live with fibromyalgia, she refuses to let it define her life’.

As the conversation progressed, she told me something very fascinating.  She told me that the only time that she is ever completely free of pain was during float therapy.  In other words, she has nil pain during float therapy!  Isn’t that amazing?

I was amazed by this last bit of information from her.  I thought to myself, how can this be??

I asked her twice,

“So you have NO pain during float therapy?”

She restated, for the second time:

“Absolutely no pain during float therapy.”

I asked,

“How often do you do float therapy?”

She answered,

“Not often enough…I can’t afford to do it very often.”

Admittedly, I was saddened by the fact that it was the lack of finances that was blocking her access to a pain-free state.

What is Float Therapy?:

Since most people with chronic pain (e.g. fibromyalgia) do not live near a warm ocean (including the Dead Sea, the saltiest sea on earth), it may be worthwhile for them to try an isolation (floatation) tank filled with pleasantly warm, very salty water (e.g. Epson salt plus fresh water), surrounded by warm air, for 60-90 minutes instead.


Credit/Source of YouTube and Photo:

Float House (

Wearing nothing except a ‘birthday suit’ and some earplugs (to block out all external noise) and floating effortlessly in warm, salty water in complete darkness in a tank enables the patient to focus only on the sounds of his/her own body including the sounds of the:

  • Heartbeat;
  • Breath; and
  • GI tract.

Floating on an ‘aqueous mattress’ in pitch-black darkness in a warm and quiet tank can stop the brain from receiving its usual incoming stream of external sensory input including visual (from retinal stimuli), auditory and smell sensation.

Float therapy also leads to nil tactile sensation as the patient does not touch anything while floating.

Being surrounded by air and water that are both perfectly matched to skin temperatures (~34°C, or ~94°F) temporarily alleviates the need to thermoregulate.  This additional source of sensory deprivation results when the warm water no longer provides any sensory stimulation to the brain, and consequently, the brain no longer perceives a boundary between the skin/body and the water.

Sensory deprivation in a zero-gravity environment, due to the reduced demand on the brain to control muscles, is a temporary ‘detachment from all external chatter’ due to a complete loss of all sensation including even a ‘lost’ sense of gravity.  This deeply relaxing state enables the patient to focus on his/her inner self instead of continuously being distracted by external stimuli and stressors.

For many, sensory deprivation via float therapy offers an antidote to the many stresses of everyday life.  Studies show that float therapy can lead to reduced blood pressure and decreased stress hormone (cortisol) levels that persist even after cessation of float therapy.  Decreased anxiety and stress as well as reduced depression can result from float therapy.

Float therapy, where the patient sees and feels nothing (not even gravity), and hears only the sound of his/her body, can quickly facilitate a state of meditation (without even trying).  It can be a ‘shortcut’ to a meditative state for those who may find meditation difficult.

Justin Feinstein, Clinical Neuropsychologist at the Float Clinic and Research Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, prefers to use the term ‘sensory enhancement’ (instead of ‘sensory deprivation’).  An earlier researcher, Dr Roderick Borrie, preferred ‘REST’, or ‘Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy’.

For some people (including the woman I met who has fibromyalgia – see above), sensory deprivation via float therapy can lead to complete pain relief while relaxing in the floatation tank.

A Study on Float Therapy and Fibromyalgia:

Patients with fibromyalgia (n=81) participated in a study involving 3 float therapy sessions.  Many participants benefited from temporary reductions in pain, muscle tension, stress, anxiety and sadness.  Furthermore, the patients were significantly more relaxed and enjoyed a greater sense of well-being as well as increased energy, enhanced ease of movement and improved quality of sleep during each of the 3 float therapy sessions (Borrie et al, 2012).


In addition to the woman living with fibromyalgia (described above), I wonder if other chronic pain including fibromyalgia patients may obtain pain relief from float therapy, and if so, which ones?  Research is warranted.

Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain sufferers are encouraged to try float therapy .  After all, there are nil side effects from float therapy other than a risk of claustrophobia or nausea.  In the event of discomfort, patients are welcome to leave the floatation tank at any time.

Sabina Walker

“Sedare dolorem divinum opus est”

“It is divine to alleviate pain”

Galen, 130-200 C.E.


(1) Can Float Therapy Really Treat Stress?

Mandy Oaklander

TIME (27 July 2015)

(2) Floating Away: The Science of Sensory Deprivation Therapy

Shelly Fan

Discover Magazine (4 April 2014)

(3) The Effects of Flotation REST on the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Roderick Borrie, Tamara Russell, Stefan Schneider

Presented 21 April 2012 at Float Summit 2012 in Gothenburg, Sweden

(4) More On Fibromyalgia 

Dr. Katinka van der Merwe. Taming the Beast: A Guide to Conquering Fibromyalgia (13 November 2013); 270 pages.


ISBN-10: 1491089903

ISBN-13: 978-1491089903