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5 Surprising Ways to Alleviate Pain

Big pharma does not have the corner on relieving chronic, debilitating pain.
 
 
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Millions of Americans live with chronic pain, which has proven to be incredibly difficult to treat. Drugs are one, usually imperfect, answer, and big pharma would love everyone to be on them. As has been reported many times on AlterNet, medicinal pot has been shown to relieve a variety of symptoms, from nausea, to neuropathic pain to epileptic seizures. But when it comes to pain, the demand for other treatments is great, and scientists have been busily studying the whole phenomenon of pain and how it is experienced in both the body and the brain. One thing that they have found is that the perception of pain is malleable. As  Vox recently reported, "scientists have been compiling evidence that pain levels can be quite sensitive to distractions and to one's emotions and thoughts." 

So, if different experiences and thoughts can help alleviate pain, what are they? Here are five intriguing possibilities from recent studies:

1. Touching money 

Yeupp, just touching it. Not even having it, necessarily. In a  paper, published in Psychological Science in 2009, subjects who physically handled cash money (as opposed to slips of paper) ended up reporting less pain when their fingers were then immersed in hot water.

Touching money also seemed to help alleviate the pain of social exclusion. (Physical and emotional pain have many things in common—namely, both are extremely painful.)

Money cuts both ways though. When studies in one study were asked to list what they had spent money on in the past month, their reported pain and discomfort increased.

2. Just thinking about love

Love is indeed the answer as the Beatles once sang, and countless other crooners and poets have agreed. But no one has written a song about how just thinking about love can diminish your direct experience of pain. A 2011 UCLA  study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences administered painful shocks to women volunteers. (All in the name of science!) Some  of the subjects in the study looked at photos of their current romantic partners as they were being shocked, while others looked at photographs of complete strangers. The ones who were looking at the one they loved reported feeling less pain. Brain scans backed up the self-reported experiences of pain.

3. Staring at art (that you like)

Pain sufferers, get out your art book, or head to your nearest art museum. Just make sure it is art that you like.
 
It figures that this study comes from Italy where there is so much incredible art to gaze at. In 2008, a team from the University of Bari in Italy had participants look at paintings that the participants themselves had rated as beautiful, neutral, or ugly. At the same time they were zapped by a laser beam. (Brave volunteers, again.) The people who were looking at painting they had rated as beautiful reported less pain when being zapped than when they were looking at art that left them cold.

4. Listening to music

This comes from a pretty small recent study University of Utah  study of 153 volunteers. The results were somewhat mixed. Listening to music worked for some folks better than others. According to the study: "Engaging in music listening can reduce responses to pain, depending on the person: people who are anxious and can become absorbed in activities easily may find music listening especially effective for relieving pain. Clinicians should consider patients' personality characteristics when recommending behavioral interventions like music listening for pain relief."
 
So, anxiety-ridden, easily absorbed pain sufferers, crank up the playlist.
 
5. Playing video games competitively 
 
Not going to work for everyone, in fact, it only works for men, according to o ne study from Haverford College which examined whether competing in some sort of video game battle would decrease pain. It did, but again, only in men. Why it does not work for women is a bit of a mystery, but the distraction element seems pretty clear.
 
h/t: Vox