Swearing into Pain Management

I’ve run into a few articles going back to about 2010 that have demonstrated that swearing can alleviate pain. It has a hypoalgesic effect. So if you stub your toe in the middle of the night, go ahead and wake up the household swearing, because the pain will diminish. I found that to be rather fascinating. It may be my next experiment, just because it could be fun to be sitting quietly at work and just rattle off a string of curses to see if my generalized pain will decrease for even just a few minutes. It won’t, and I probably wouldn’t stay employed. I do have questions, though…

  1. For swearing to alleviate pain, does it have to be very loud? Just thinking curse words wouldn’t work, would it?
  2. One study (Robertson, O, Robinson, Sarita Jane, and Stephens, R (2017) Swearing as a response to pain: A cross-cultural comparison of British and Japanese participants. Scandinavian Journal of Pain, 17) demonstrated that swearing, no matter cultural differences, does work on pain and that swearing increases pain tolerance. We can take more pain if we swear.
  3. As a warning, however, another study (Swearing as a response to pain-effect of daily swearing frequency. Stephens R, Umland C.J Pain. 2011 Dec;12(12):1274-81) demonstrated that people who swear normally in daily conversation don’t have the same pain relief as those who save their swearing for the most appropriate moments of physical pain. So don’t drop the f-bomb unless there’s bruising.
  4. Since chronic pain is continuous, and if you swear continuously, it lessens the effect of swearing on pain, this is probably not going to prove to be a good method for pain relief for those with fibromyalgia. Right?

I have a theory. It has to do with why swearing might help. I know there’s chemicals involved. To be honest, I haven’t read the articles in full to tell you why swearing works, but I’m sure it’s hormones. If you swear and your body keeps releasing the hormones when you don’t need it, then your body gets used to it, etc, etc, so swearing doesn’t work anymore. That’s just me filling in blanks. So let’s just say that’s close to being almost right. Scenario:

  • I stub my toe
  • My toe tries to disengage itself from my foot
  • I hold onto it and hop around a little
  • I swear several times out loud with feeling
  • My brain releases some hormones that has an hypoalgesic effect
  • My toes doesn’t hurt SO much. It still hurts. We all know, it still hurts, but not AS much.

The brain is probably reacting to both the pain and the emotional force that swearing provides by releasing chemicals. We all know “gosh darn it” can never be as emotionally meaningful as other iterations – we need the other iterations. Chronic pain doesn’t work like that. However, new scenario:

  • Wake up in the morning and can’t move your legs. Too much pain in hips, back, and legs.
  • Kids starting to move around to get ready for school. You can’t turn your head because your neck is stuck.
  • Work is expecting you in an hour. Your eyes won’t stay open. They’re blurry and burning and dry.
  • Take in a deep cleansing breath through your nose, blow it out through your mouth. Take another deep cleansing breath through your nose, and blow it out while shouting every swear word you ever heard your dad say when he was building the sandbox while swinging your legs over to the floor and standing up. Don’t stop swearing until you’re on your feet. Concentrate on finding more words, like the ones your uncle taught you when you were six to shock your mom. And then pause. Deep cleansing breath in through your nose, and blow it out through your mouth. You are ready for the day.

And that is how swearing can help fibromyalgia patients.

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