Can Swearing Reduce Pain? Science Says F*cking Absolutely!

When a patient suffers a badly stubbed toe, we tell them to put some ice on it and take it easy. But many people get through painful run-ins with the living room furniture by yelling something that goes like this: “Ow, F**k Damn, Ow, S**t!”

Over the past decade, many experiments have revealed that swearing can increase one’s pain tolerance. The studies demonstrated that swearing may help us deal with pain, endure it longer, and experience it less acutely. Isn’t science neat?

An early study out of Keene University started with the opposite assumption – that swearing was a “maladaptive response” that sharpened people’s experience of pain. 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, that, and the horse it rode in on.

Swearing Helps Pain

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 scientists tested it out. They devised an experiment: to generate a pain response, they asked their subjects to hold their hand in a bucket of ice water for an extended period, known 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.

Swearing Relieves Pain

So, does swearing reduce pain?

The Keene University researchers found was that the potty-mouth group could keep their hand submerged an average of 40 seconds longer than the non-swearing group. 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 reduces pain across the board

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

How can we be sure swearing relieves pain?

Is it really swearing that helps reduce pain, or just shouting? UK researchers Richard Stephens and Olly Robertson followed up the original study by experimenting with a twist; they added two made-up swear words. The study found that new, made-up “swear” words do not have similar pain alleviation effects as regular swearing. Conventional potty-mouth rules the day!

They assessed the effects of the swear word (“fuck”) and two new “swear” words, identified as both emotion-arousing and distracting: “fouch” and “twizpipe.” These words were not effective in alleviating pain or pain tolerance.

This is the first study to show that swearing raises pain threshold, building on previous findings showing that swearing makes pain more tolerable.

The findings hold for non-English speakers, too!

similar experiment performed with 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.

Swearing may have induced a fight or flight response, numbing the experience of pain. Fight-or-flight, the human threat response, causes our heart rate and adrenaline to spike, preparing our bodies to either run like hell or start swinging.

Researchers concluded that 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 psych yourself up with a few choice words. Bitchin’!

Why choose University Foot and Ankle Institute for your foot and ankle care?

If you’ve injured your foot so bad swearing can’t help, we’re here for you. Our podiatrists offer the most advanced podiatry care and the highest success rates in the nation. We are nationally recognized foot and ankle specialists and leaders in researching, diagnosing, and treating all foot and ankle conditions and common injuries.

For a consultation please call (877) 736-6001 or make an appointment online now.

Our podiatrists take patients’ safety seriously. Our podiatry facility’s Covid-19 patient safety procedures exceed all the CDC’s coronavirus pandemic recommendations. Masks are always required in our institutes.

University Foot and Ankle Institute is conveniently located throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area. Our foot doctors are available at locations in or near Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Northridge, Downtown Los Angeles, Westlake Village, Granada Hills, and Valencia.

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