Reducing the Perception of Pain

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Pain is a common problem. In some cases, pain serves as a warning system that alerts the individual to danger or to the need to take some action. The pain of touching a hot stove, for example, is a warning that the stove could burn the skin and a reminder to be more careful. Some pain, however, seems to serve no beneficial purpose. Pain can interfere with normal life and can prevent the pain sufferer from accomplishing important goals. Although medication can be useful in preventing or reducing pain, medication can also have unwanted side effects. People can reduce their need for medication by learning to change or reduce their perception of pain.

Technique 1: Shift the focus away from the pain

Pain is a common complaint among athletes who participate in sports that require a great deal of physical endurance. Research on bicycle racers shows that pain can be inversely proportional to the enjoyment of what the athlete is doing (Kress & Statler, 2007, p. 232). The relationship between pain and reward reflects the athlete’s ability to focus on the race and the possibility of winning instead of focusing on the pain that is felt during the competition.

When things are going well, the athlete is more likely to be encouraged and to have a positive mental attitude about what he or she is doing. Instead of thinking about the pain, the racer is thinking about winning the race, about how much effort has gone into this moment, or even about the sheer enjoyment of what he or she is doing. This positive attitude becomes more difficult to maintain if things start going wrong. Negative thoughts may take over if the racer is trailing the pack instead of leading it. If the racer begins to focus on the amount of work he or she is having to do through the course of the race, then it would be harder to deny the feelings of pain that are shooting through the racer’s legs, heart, and lungs.

Technique 2: Stay optimistic

Kress and Statler (2007) also noted that bicycle racers who stayed optimistic about their race experienced less pain during the race than racers who were not as hopeful about their chances. This finding has direct implications for all pain sufferers. Those who are able to retain some optimism about their illness or their condition may experience less pain than those who give up hope.

Technique 3: Stay in control

Kress and Statler (2007) reported that racers who felt like they were in control of their circumstances felt less pain than racers who felt that they had little or no control over the outcome of the race. This also has implications for most people. Patients who feel that they are in control of their injury or illness may perceive less pain than patients who believe that they are powerless.

Technique 4: Be prepared

Finally, Kress and Statler (2007) noted that athletes who were better prepared for competition experienced less pain than competitors who were less prepared. This includes physical and mental preparation. Bicyclists who had trained their body for higher endurance and who had prepared their minds to deal with the pain reported lower levels of pain. This technique also has important implications for all people, not just bicycle racers. By staying in good mental and physical shape, people can reduce their perception of pain and can increase their ability to face physical challenges.


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