Stubbed Your Toe? Science Now Says “Swearing Like a Sailor” Offers Real Pain Relief

Stubbed Your Toe? Science Now Says “Swearing Like a Sailor” Offers Real Pain Relief

Swear words have many functions. They can be used for emphasis, for comedic effect, as a shared linguistic tool that strengthens social bonds and maintains relationships, or simply to cause offence and shock.

Usually when a patient suffers a badly stubbed toe, we tell them to put some ice on it and take it easy. But after today, we might have a new suggestion for getting through painful run-ins with the living room furniture, and it goes a little something like this: “Ow, F**k Damn, Ow, S**t!”

That’s because, according to a study published in NeuroReport, swearing may actually help us to deal with pain, to endure it longer, and to experience it less acutely.  Isn’t science neat?

The researchers out of Keene University actually started with the opposite assumption; that swearing was a “maladaptive response” that sharpened people’s experience of pain. The dominant view was that colorful language is “a sign of pain-related catastrophizing.” In other words, severe pain fills us with such a feeling of dread and hopelessness, that the only thing left to do is to curse this, curse that, and the horse it rode in on.

If swearing when you get hurt is “maladaptive,” why is it so commonplace?

Since no one could find any evidence to support this line of thought, the incorrigible scientists decided to test it out. Together, they devised a dastardly experiment. To generate a pain response, they asked their subjects to hold their hand in a bucket of ice water for an extended period of time, known in the biz as the “cold pressor” technique. With their hands completely submerged, one group was asked to repeat a neutral word (think “monkeys”), while the other group was asked to repeat a swear word (think… well, you get the idea).

The swearing study results took them by surprise

What they found was that the potty-mouth group could keep their hand submerged an average of 40 seconds longer than the goodie-two-shoes. They also found that the swearing group’s heart rates were significantly elevated when compared to the non-swearing group. The bump was even more dramatic for women.

Swearing appeared to lower both men’s and women’s perception of pain

Women in the non-swearing group rated their perceived pain at about a 4.9 out of 10, while men in that same group rated theirs at about a 5.6. However, both sexes in the swearing group rated their pain at around a 3.85.

Apparently, the findings hold true for non-English speakers, too!

A similar experiment carried out for native English and Japanese speakers found that, while vulgar-mouthed English speakers could withstand the cold pressor for 49% longer, Japanese smut-spewers got even more bang for their buck, enduring the cold for a whopping 75% longer than non-swearers.

The researchers in both studies concluded that there must be something about four-letter words that numb us to the experience of pain. “Swearing may have induced a fight or flight response,” writes Richard Stephens, one of the study’s lead researchers. Fight-or-flight, the biological human reaction to a threat, causes our heart rate and adrenaline to spike, preparing our bodies to either run like hell or start swinging.

“In addition,” Stephens adds, “swearing nullified the link between fear of pain and pain perception.” So if you’re about to go through an immense amount of pain, you can literally psych yourself up with a few choice words. Bitchin’!

The doctors at UFAI are here for you no matter how you’ve hurt your foot or ankle and no matter how much it hurts! Give us a call at (877) 736-6001.

Read the full article at: medicalxpress.com

Lydia Salinas

Lydia Salinas

A lifelong runner and favorite of the Westside running community, Lydia Salinas, PTA, joins UFAI to bring her expertise and extensive experience to the physical therapy team.

Lydia has over 30 years of clinical experience in outpatient orthopedic and sports medicine physical therapy. She takes pride in getting to know her clients personal needs and taking a hands-on approach to restore functional movement, balance, strength, and conditioning.
Lydia Salinas

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