Research Supports EFT Tapping to Help with Chronic Pain

A new study showed improved physical and emotional symptoms and brain activity changes after using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) with people struggling with chronic pain. Here is what you need to know.

By: Christine McDevitt, MS, OTR/L

Researchers from Bond University in Australia studied the effects of a 6-week intervention using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT tapping) on adults struggling with chronic pain. The study’s purpose was to see if EFT had an affect on:

  • severity of pain,
  • how much pain interfered with daily activities,
  • quality of life,
  • body symptoms,
  • depression,
  • anxiety,
  • happiness,
  • and satisfaction with life.

The researchers took pre- and post-study brain scans of each participant at rest using fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). The purpose of the scans was to map and measure any changes in brain activity in areas involved with pain modulation (the process by which a pain signal is altered as it travels through the nervous system) and pain catastrophizing (a pattern of negative thinking about the pain experience).

The results of the study showed that the EFT tapping intervention was effective in reducing the impact of chronic pain.

When participants were reassessed at the end of the six weeks, the data showed the following changes:

Man is smiling after an Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT tapping) intervention helped with chronic pain.
Photo by Petr Sevcovic on Unsplash
  • Severity of pain decreased by 21%.
  • Pain’s interference in daily life decreased by 26%.
  • Quality of life increased by 7%.
  • Physical symptoms decreased by 28%.
  • Depression decreased by 13.5%.
  • Anxiety decreased by 37.1%.
  • Happiness increased by 17%.
  • Life satisfaction increased by 8.8%.
  • The fMRI results found changes in the participants’ brain activity at the end of the study. Imaging showed significantly decreased connectivity between an area of the brain that modulates pain (the medial prefrontal cortex) and two areas of the brain (the cingulate cortex and the thalamus) involved in pain modulation and negative thinking patterns related to pain.

The EFT tapping for chronic pain intervention was provided in a virtual group format.

A trained clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques practitioner and a clinical psychologist ran a virtual online group using a standardized protocol. The participants received 60-90 minutes of EFT per week over 6 weeks with an additional 30-60 minutes per week focused on education about pain and using EFT to address issues related to pain.

Twenty-four adults from 18 to 77 years old participated in the study. All had been experiencing pain that negatively impacted daily functioning and quality of life for at least 6 of the 12 months prior to the start of the study. All reported a pain level of 4 or higher on a 0 to 10 pain scale (10 being the most intense pain). None were receiving any medical or psychological treatments for chronic pain.

The researchers excluded certain types of pain in this study. For example, people who had pain caused by cancer or autoimmune disorders (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis or lupus) or pain that was referred from another body area (e.g., back pain caused by inflammation of the pancreas) weren’t permitted to participate. The study also excluded people who had chronic pain along with other major psychiatric conditions (e.g., bipolar disorder) or who were in intensive treatment for substance use disorder.

What does this research mean for using EFT with chronic pain?

The researchers acknowledged that future studies need a larger group of participants. They also recognized that lack of a control group and lack of long-term follow up are weaknesses of the current study.

Despite these drawbacks, this is the first study of EFT tapping and pain that also included brain imaging as an objective measure instead of relying only on participants’ self-reports to track outcomes.

According to the researchers, the changes in brain activity indicate that tapping may be generating neurological signals which affect areas in the brain associated with the experience of chronic pain.

Brain showing neurological signals being generated during Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT tapping) intervention for chronic pain.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The researchers concluded that EFT is a body-centered intervention that may help alter the perception of pain in the nervous system and that EFT has the capacity to be an effective adjunct to other pain interventions.

Is EFT tapping right for me?

While it’s great to see research that backs up the benefits people report when using an intervention like EFT, it doesn’t always mean the intervention is right for you.

If you’re struggling with chronic pain and are curious about using EFT, schedule a free consultation today so we can see if it’s appropriate for your situation. No pressure, no obligation, no strings attached.