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Swearing and Pain Relief

Many massage therapists will tell you that massage should not be painful and “no pain – no gain” should not apply to bodywork. If they are causing you pain then you should let them know so that they can back off their pressure or change the massage “tool” they are using or work elsewhere to try to achieve their objective.

However, there are occasions when the therapist does need to cause a little (or significant) pain to release a restriction or tight muscle through deep tissue techniques. Sometimes you have to go one step back to go two steps forward and this is approach is often employed physiotherapists who do soft tissue work.

pain relief during massageThe pain can be intense albeit often only for a short time whilst the therapist is doing their stuff. (Am speaking from recent experience for a hamstring problem which has had my therapist well and truly getting stuck into my glutes which is only good when he finishes).

Makes you feel like letting fly with words and expletives that you wouldn’t normally use in public.

Well, researchers have found that swearing can have a positive impact on pain tolerance so long as swearing is not part of your everyday vocabulary (1).

In the study, participants were asked to place their hand into room temperature water for three minutes to act as a baseline. They then had to place it in water at 5°C for as long as possible whilst repeating either a specific swear word or a specific non-swear word.

The results from the research were that people who did not swear very often in daily life could keep their hands in the cold water for about 140 seconds when they were permitted to swear. This was about as twice as long as the time when they used the specific non-swear word.

However, for those people who stated that swearing was part of their daily speech, they could only keep their hands in the cold water for about 120 seconds when they used the allowed swear word.

The researchers concluded from the study that swearing can be an effective form of short term pain reliever if used in moderation by providing a type of “stress-induced analgesia”. If swearing is part of your normal vernacular though this can water down their emotional benefits.

So the next time your therapist is getting well and truly stuck into some soft tissues and it hurts, don’t be shy. Feel free to let fly with the words you wouldn’t be using in polite company and give yourself some natural and free pain relief with no side-effects (other than maybe a little post-massage embarrassment).

Will you feel better for it? ******* oath you will!

(1) R. Stephens, C. Umland. “Swearing as a Response to Pain – Effect of Daily Swearing Frequency”. The Journal of Pain. Vol 12 Issue 12. Pages 1274-1281. Dec 2011

By Richard Lane