Using Flotation Therapy for Pain Management

Using Flotation Therapy for Pain Management

By Sean Sparks May 2, 2016 Edit

There is quite a bit of evidence that indicates that flotation (sensory deprivation) can be a useful tool when it comes to pain reduction. In 2007, Science Daily concluded that, “relaxation in large, sound- and light-proof tanks with high-salt water — floating — is an effective way to alleviate long-term stress-related pain. Sleep was improved, patients felt more optimistic, and the content of the vitalizing hormone prolactin increased. Anxiety, stress, depression, and perception of pain declined.”

Got pain? Traveling soon?

Low Back Pain

A study was done in 1991 to “evaluate the effectiveness of sensory deprivation in reducing pain in patients with chronic low-back pain. Sixty patients were divided into two groups of 30 patients each: One group underwent 1 hour of sensory deprivation; the other received a lecture on relaxation skills. In the group receiving sensory deprivation, statistically significant decreases in pain and stiffness were noted. Sensory deprivation is an effective treatment to reduce pain and thus interrupt the pain cycle in patients with chronic low-back pain.”

Muscle Tension Pain

study was done in 2001 on effects of flotation-REST on muscle tension pain to investigate whether the floating form of the restricted environmental stimulation technique (REST) may be applied within the field of pain relief. The results indicated that the most severe perceived pain intensity was significantly reduced, whereas low perceived pain intensity was not influenced by the floating technique. Flotation-REST treatment also elevated the participants’ optimism and reduced the degree of anxiety or depression; at nighttime, patients who underwent flotation fell asleep more easily. The present findings describe possible changes, for the better, in patients presenting with chronic pain complaints.


Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues, according to The Mayo Clinic.

The Fibromyalgia Floatation Project (FFP) believes that spending an hour in a float tank will help sufferers reduce pain significantly. Some of the potential benefits for those suffering with fibromyalgia include:

  • Stress reduction
  • Decreased pain in general
  • Decreased muscle tension and pain caused by muscle tension
  • Lessening of anxiety
  • Mood elevation
  • Improved sleep

Initial results from a international research study done in 2011 demonstrate that Floatation REST therapy can help sufferers of Fibromyalgia relax, manage pain and attend to tasks which normally cause them difficulty. Twenty-three volunteers completed a total of three one-hour floatation sessions, which were held five to seven days apart. Almost all of the volunteers were women aged 30 to 62. Across floatation sessions, decreases in muscle tension and pain were evident. For both variables, patients indicated a 25% reduction in the first session and a 33% reduction in the third session. Statistical analysis revealed that during all floats the patientʼs level of relaxation increased 30% on average and levels of stress decreased 30%.

Another small-scale 2012 study also showed the profound benefits of float tanks. 81 volunteers with fibromyalgia were given three free float sessions in exchange for feedback on a questionnaire. Results demonstrated that flotation REST provided significant temporary reductions in pain, muscle tension, stress, anxiety and sadness, as well as significant increases in relaxation, feelings of well being, energy and ease of movement. There was also significant improvement in the quality of sleep.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis means inflammation in a joint. That inflammation causes redness, warmth, swelling, and pain within the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis affects joints on both sides of the body, such as both hands, both wrists, or both knees. This symmetry helps to set it apart from other types of arthritis.
In a study done by Thomas H. Fine to measure the effects of Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) on cortisol, pain and indices of inflammation on rheumatoid arthritis, pain measurements showed a significantly greater decrease across sessions in the REST + AT (Autogenic Training) group than in the AT group. The study supports the use of REST as an intervention for RA related pain.

Flotation REST has been showing promising results through research when it comes to pain reduction.  Whether you have back pain, muscle tension, fibromyalgia, or rheumatoid arthritis, floating may be a safe alternative to help manage your pain.  Although the mechanisms for this may still be unclear, Flotation REST seems to have a significant impact on reducing pain, anxiety, muscle tension, as well as improve sleep.  The next time you experience pain, go float and see if you can benefit, too.