We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine, but what about when it comes to relieving pain? It is really possible that just a little laughter can actually ease physical pain?
While the idea behind laughter as a pain medication is nothing new to speculative researchers, it was still an unproven concept. It was often believed that patients who laughed more simply requested less opioids because they were in a better mood, and while still related, laughing didn’t actually increase the pain threshold. To decide if laughter is truly an applicable pain medicine, the University of Oxford’s Robin Dunbar and her research team decided to take a look at laughter and if it actually has the power to reduce pain.
To begin the study, Dunbar and her team tested the pain threshold of each of their patients before being exposing them to any comedic-relief. To do this, the patients were given a variety of tests, including introducing their arm to freezing temperatures or a blood-pressure cuff. The patients were then shown a variety of funny videos, clips, or live comedy shows. Because individuals are more likely to laugh in groups, patients were tested both alone and in social situations. After being exposed to a humorous situation, the patients were again tested for pain tolerance, using the same strategies as before.
To test the possibility that positive emotion, rather than laughter, was the cause of an increase in pain tolerance, the same study was done with individuals who watched about animals and nature. What Dunbar and her research team found was that the patients’ pain tolerance increased by about 10 percent after just 15 minutes of group comedic stimulation and slightly smaller results for individuals tested alone.
The biology behind laughter and pain tolerance is actually quite simple. When we laugh, a chemical in our brains, known as endorphins, is released. These endorphins trigger a similar pain-killing “high” that certain drugs evoke, leaving the individual with a better tolerance to pain. Because endorphins are actually released by physical activity, laughter is believed to release the cheer-inducing chemical through physical exhaustion of the ab muscles, meaning a good laugh will not only reduce your feelings of pain, but give you a decent ab exercise.
For individuals dealing with chronic pain, a cure as simple as laughter is not something to joke about. If you would like to continue seeking treatment for pain or would like more information about specific pain associated with different conditions, my “Aches and Gains” radio show takes an up-close look at the painful conditions that hold people back every day and what actions they can take to begin reducing the pain they experience.