Kids' Tummy Aches Eased by Imagination
Study: Guided Imagery Helps Children Get Over Their Chronic Stomachaches
Oct. 12, 2009 -- Children who often get stomachaches may get more relief
when they learn to use their imagination to feel better, a new study shows.
The study, published in the November edition of Pediatrics, shows
that more children with chronic stomachaches improved when their treatment
included guided imagery as well as standard medical care.
"What is especially exciting about our study is that children can clearly
reduce their abdominal pain a lot on their
own with guidance from audio recordings, and they get much better results that
way than from medical care alone," researcher Miranda van Tilburg, PhD, of the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says in a news release.
The study included 34 children aged 6 to 15 who were treated at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University Medical
All of the kids had abdominal pain with no clear medical explanation. They
all got standard medical care for those chronic stomachaches.
Some of the children also got an instructional DVD and CDs that contained
guided imagery exercises. For comparison, the rest of the kids didn't get those
CDs until two months later.
One of the guided imagery programs asked the kids to imagine "floating
comfortably on a big, puffy cloud" and relaxing progressively. Another program
described imagining a special object melting into the kids' hands "like butter
and making the hand shiny and warm," and then instructing the kids to put that
hand on their belly, "imagining the light and warmth spreading throughout their
belly and making a protective barrier inside that does not let anything
irritate the belly."
The kids used the CDs for eight weeks. The children liked the CDs, and most
of them listened to the CDs more often than required.
At the end of the eight-week period, 63% of the kids who had
received the guided imagery CDs had had their stomach pain ease by at least
half, compared to about 27% of children who had only gotten standard medical
Then, the kids who hadn't gotten the CDs right away had their turn using
guided imagery. Eight weeks later, 61% of them had had at least a 50%
improvement in their stomach pain.
After eight weeks of treatment, the kids gradually used the CDs less often,
though they were supposed to keep using the guided imagery techniques that they
Six months later, about 62% of the kids who had responded to the guided
imagery treatment were still doing well.