Most of us have pain some of the time; some of us have pain most of the time. Whether your pain is temporary or chronic, it doesn't matter: Pain is the worst. Not only is it physically uncomfortable, it's overwhelming, taking over other feelings, interests or desires. Strong pain is debilitating, and for some of us, it prevents basic activities either directly or secondarily. For example, nausea frequently accompanies pain, making meals impossible. (I know when I have a bad headache or aching ankle, I can't eat).
Of course, there are a raft of pharmaceutical options for temporary pain and medical procedures for chronic pain, but some are safer than others and some of us like to avoid taking pills as much as possible. Wherever you are on the pain spectrum, doing any of the things below definitely can't hurt and may very well get you some relief — and we have the science to back up that claim.
Swear: Letting a few choice words fly can reduce feelings of pain in most people, according to a 2009 study. Researchers from Keele University in the U.K. found: "Swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing. However, swearing did not increase pain tolerance in males with a tendency to catastrophise. The observed pain-lessening (hypoalgesic) effect may occur because swearing inducesa fight-or-flight response and nullifies the link between fear of pain and pain perception."
Hug yourself: An interesting 2011 study in the journal Pain found that in 20 subjects who were given painful electric shocks, pain was reduced when arms were crossed in front of the body. Like studies that have helped patients with phantom limb pain who use mirrors to confuse or reorient the brain's understanding of the body in space, arm crossing "...impairs this ability to localize tactile stimuli," according to the study, meaning that pain is lessened due to the brain's becoming confused about its origins.
Listen to music: A number of studies have shown that music reduces pain after surgery of various kinds, from gynecologic to major abdominal. And it's even been found to be effective for terminally ill patients with pain.
Sing: Feel free to sing along if you are already listening to music. In a study that compared those who sang versus those who just listened to music and relaxed, those who belted out a few reported better moods and less pain.
Get a hug: Since hugging has been proven to lower cortisol (the stress hormone) and relax the body, it can have some temporary mitigation for pain — as can gentle stroking or other affectionate touch between two people who are both comfortable with the action. A good hug should last 20 seconds for best effect (again, as long as both parties are comfortable with that).
Rub the area around the injury: This floods the brain with stimuli from the area that has been hurt, reducing the brain's ability to focus on the pain's origin area. (This works particularly well for bumped shins and is my go-to move!)
Dance: Dancing in time with others releases endorphins, which can up one's pain tolerance, as found by testing Brazilian dancers who engaged in synchronized and non-synchronized dancing. Those who danced with others released more endorphins, probably due to the social bonding aspect of dancing with others — though you get some positive effect from moving to music too. "Both synchronisation and exertion had independent effects on these measures, so moving energetically or moving in synchrony can both make you feel closer to others when you are dancing," Bronwyn Tarr told Phys.org. "But combining high energy and synchrony had the greatest effects – which might explain why people love to Flashmob!"
Sex: Sex can be mighty distracting, which can help with pain, but it also gets endorphins flowing around the body, making it better for reducing some aches (like migraines) than painkillers. According to researchers: "Sex can abort migraine and cluster headache attacks, and sexual activity is used by some patients as acute headache treatment." Don't have a partner? No worries; the same effects in pain relief can be achieved by reaching climax solo.
Laugh at a comedy show: Watching silly movies and laughing can genuinely make you feel better if you are experiencing pain. According to one study from the 1980s: "Movies were viewed by two groups (humor and non-humor) and differences between groups were noted on measures of perceived pain and affect. Humor is shown to provide significant benefits." And more recent studies back up those older findings.
Pain can ruin your day. But the alternative is a feeling-free life (some people are born without pain receptors) — which is a dangerous, life-threatening condition. So it's worth keeping in mind that pain is part of being human.