Pain Relief Through Distraction

I want your thoughts on this article from According to a new study, distractions can reduce pain by creating a series of physiological events that impact not only the brain but also the spinal cord.

German researchers used spinal functional MRIs to view the spinal cords of 20 men as they were exposed to painful levels of heat to their arms. At the same time, the study participants had to complete either a hard or an easy memory task.

When the men were given a hard memory task, they perceived less pain than when they were given an easier task. Moreover, the MRIs detected less activity in the spinal cord during a hard mental task. What that means is that fewer pain signals were being relayed to the brain.

Distraction may release natural opioids, which play a key role in pain relief, the authors wrote in their study.

In fact, when the researchers repeated the study, but gave participants a drug that blocks the effects of opioids, distraction was much less effective at reducing the pain, suggesting that distraction does its pain-reducing magic partly through opioids.

I think this is fascinating, though not all that surprising. Remember that the body is designed to move. When you move, endorphins (endogenous opiates) are released into the blood stream and into the spinal cord. If you’ve ever experienced a “Runner’s High,” then you have experienced an endorphin release. If you’re a woman who has given birth, you have experienced an endorphin release. You might not have experienced as much endorphin release as you would have liked to, but you have experienced it nonetheless!

While we know that endorphins are the body’s natural pain-fighting mechanism, it’s pretty cool to see that your body ups the ante when the body and mind are distracted. I believe this is exactly why those of you who have battle chronic pain for years aren’t as aware of your pain now as you once were. I know that’s what happened to me. After years of waking up with low back pain, it just wasn’t as bad as it had been. In reality, it probably was, however I think that the distractions in my life made my body fight that much harder to block the pain.

QUESTIONWhat are your thoughts about the impact distractions have on pain?