January/February 2010 Alternative Health
Can Swearing Help with Pain?
by Jennifer Cox
It’s not uncommon to let loose a string of blue smoke when you stub your toe on a table leg. Cover your ears — researchers have actually found that swearing helps you to cope with pain.
In studies conducted by Keele University in England, 64 volunteers were asked to submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice. They were then asked to repeat the experiment, this time using a more commonplace word that they would use to describe a table.
Researchers initially thought that swearing would exaggerate the severity of the pain. Despite their expectations, they found that the volunteers were able to keep their hands submerged in the ice water for a longer period of time when repeating the swear word, establishing a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance.
While it isn’t clear how or why this link exists, researchers believe that the pain-lessening effect occurs because swearing triggers our natural fight-or-flight response, which downplays weakness in favor of pain-tolerant machismo.
The next time you stub your toe, know that verbally embracing your shadow may help you to cope with pain.