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Body Hacks: Swearing to Relieve Pain!

By Edited Jan 4, 2016 1 1

Damn, That Hurts!

If I hit my thumb with a hammer, my first reaction is probably to yell out a few choice words that George Carlin couldn't say on television. Swearing is a common reaction to pain, but most of us couldn't explain why it helps. A recent study by Keele University's School of Psychology has turned up some interesting and suprising results about the relationship between swearing and pain. Richard Stevens, a researcher at Keele University, claims that swearing triggers a burst of adrenaline that helps handle the pain. Sound strange? Maybe not as odd as you think.
Swear to stop pain
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/evilmutent/

Stress-Induced Analgesia:
The fight-or-flight syndrome, or more properly stress-induced analgesia, is a state induced by sudden fear, anger, or excitement. It is the instinctual tool that many animals (including humans) use to deal with threatening. When fight-or-flight is triggered a rush of adrenaline floods the body preparing it to run away or to do battle. It can also have other effects, such as emptying the bladder (particularly common among birds) which is why someone can be “so scared that they wet their pants.” When you hear stories about mothers lifting cars) of children, this seemingly “superhuman strength” comes from the rush of adrenaline in the-fight or-flight instinct.
Try holding your hands in an ice bucket
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeontheweb/

So How Does Swearing Affect Pain?
This new report has shown that swearing (as a common indicator of anger, surprise, and sometimes fear) is able to trigger stress–induced analgesia, releasing adrenaline and dulling pain. They write in the report (published in The Journal of Pain) that they conducted experiments in which test subjects were told to hold their hands in ice water bucket for as long as they could. When participants were told to be silent they could only last about half as long in the painful ice-water as when they were told to swear loudly. in effect, using all the words you I’m not supposed to gears up your mind to overcome your current obstacles.

So Swearing Is Good Then?
Well, not quite. Another one of the interesting findings in the report is that the pain relieving benefits of swearing were not found in participants who said that they swore regularly. People who use cuss words as part of their normal, everyday conversation were “desensitized” to the effects of swearing. Curses no longer held an emotional response that triggered the stress-induced analgesia, and they lasted (on average) the same amount of time the water when they were minding their manners as when they were being profane. Poor Gordon will have to find another way to cope!
Gordon Ramesy can't swear away the pain
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jo-h/

So as it turns out, all those people in your childhood who told you not to swear were on to something! In one of the more humorous points of the study, researchers said that there was, “no recommended daily swearing allowance,” but for the sake of those around you, let’s keep it PG!
Moral of the story?
Like any medicine, swearing should only be used as needed. Don’t pop  expletives like Percocet, save those swears for when you need them!
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Comments

Jan 25, 2013 11:46pm
brandon_gardner221
This was on an episode of MythBusters, as well, and confirmed to be true. : P
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Bibliography

  1. Richard Stephens, Claudia Umland Swearing as a Response to Pain—Effect of Daily Swearing Frequency. New York, NY, USA, Full length article: The Journal of Pain, 2011.

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