Look away now … this may hurt a lot!
How many of us decide not to look when we go for a blood test… afterall, looking at the needle is just going to make us feel worse, isnʼt it? And we donʼt want to go all queasy and whimper with pain do we? We tell our children to ʻlook awayʼ, and use all sorts of distraction techniques, as we try to calm their fears when the nurse advances towards them with their inoculation jab.
Looking away from the source of pain actually seemsto decrease our pain tolerance levels and makes it a far more painful experience.
A team of researchers from University College London and University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy, were keen to see whether their volunteers detected more or less pain when looking away. A heated probe was applied to the back of their hands and various temperatures used. When the volunteers were unable to see what was going on they were less likely to tolerate the heated probe. But when the volunteers were allowed to look at their hand they seemed to tolerate the pain much better.
On average the volunteers could cope with 3C more heat when they were looking at their body than when they were looking away from it. And thereʼs more…
Magnifying the painful area and letting the volunteers see a larger version of their hand also helped to improve their ability to deal with pain.
While much is known about how the pathways from a pain stimuli connect to the brain, not so much is known about how the brain processes the received information. It is hoped that this research project will provide useful ideas for the future treatment of chronic pain.
In the meantime, when you next have a blood test or vaccination, try looking at your arm rather than away and see how you cope. Let us know how you get on.