Cursing May Help Ease Your Pain

Ever feel like cursing when your arthritis pain makes getting up from a chair difficult? Or when you wake up stiff and sore? Instead of gritting your teeth and bearing it, consider letting those dirty words fly. Although your actions may not garner you any favors with those within earshot, a recent university study shows that swearing may actually decrease your experience of pain and allow you to tolerate it better.

Interestingly, the researchers at Keele University in England first hypothesized that swearing would increase a person's perception of pain because swearing is often used to exaggerate or overstate a situation. To test this theory, the team recruited 64 students and had each of them hold a hand in a tub of ice water for as long as they could stand it, all the while repeating a swear word of their own choosing. Later, they had them hold a hand in a tub of ice water while repeating a much more neutral word, such as one they might use to describe a table. The researchers were surprised to find that the volunteers were able to hold their hands in the ice water significantly longer when they were cursing than when they were speaking the neutral words, leading them to establish a positive connection between swearing and higher pain tolerance.

Although the scientists aren't sure exactly what the mechanism is between cursing and pain tolerance, they think it may be because swearing raises stress levels and triggers an aggressive "fight or flight" response that raises heart rates and prompts the body to prepare for the possibility of pain-or what the scientists call a "pain-tolerant machismo." Cursing is actually an emotional response that triggers physical changes, as evidenced by the fact that it arises from the right brain whereas most language originates in the left brain.

While no one would advocate shouting a string of curse words in the presence of children or others likely to be offended by it, a few well-chosen swear words when your joints suddenly snap to attention might be just the thing to help you ride out the discomfort.



Keele University