In today's pill-popping culture, it's almost an involuntary reflex to reach straight for the meds whenever something ails us in the slightest. But it turns out there are other, unexpected ways to reduce pain, and we're not referring to your grandpa's preferred method of "suck that shit up like we used to back before the world transformed into one giant pussy."
So for some easy pain reduction, remember to ...
#5. Drink Coffee (Or Another Caffeinated Beverage)
Let's say you have one of your bi-annual urges to unglue yourself from the couch and get into shape. So you head to the gym and hit that shit hard -- treadmill, exercise bike, weight lifting, the rack ... just, everything. You feel pretty damn good about yourself -- right up until the next day, when holy shit your everything hurts. That's when you reach for the over-the-counter pain relievers or, depending upon your area of residence, maybe a more holistic approach. But it turns out you could have prevented the need for pain relief altogether by simply hyping yourself up on caffeine beforehand.
In one study, two groups of healthy volunteers signed up to perform some "damaging eccentric exercise" and have their level of pain intensity measured by researchers, who were presumably wearing scary clown masks. One group was given caffeine capsules equivalent to drinking two-and-a-half cups of coffee, while the other group was given placebo pills. At the end of the series of exercises, the researchers found a significant increase in the level of pain tolerance of those subjects who took the caffeine pills. The subjects also reported feeling more able to perform everyday activities like walking, sitting, climbing and descending stairs, otherwise known as all the shit you can't do the day after a suicidal workout without sobbing uncontrollably.
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"Working out is obviously bad for you."
Holy crap, the ads were right! Mountain Dew really can let you do extreme sports! Or, at least make you feel less like shit the next day.
And, in fact, if you're less the "damaging eccentric exercise" type and more the "sit your ass in front of a computer screen" type (hey, we know where you're coming from), there's still good news for you. In another study, scientists had volunteers perform 90 minutes of fake computer tasks similar to the everyday tasks you might perform at an office -- tasks meant to generate pain in the shoulders, neck, forearms and wrists of the volunteers. Before the start of the experiments, scientists allowed the volunteers to drink coffee ... not to study the effect of coffee on pain, but "to avoid unpleasant effects of caffeine deprivation, e.g. decreased vigor and alertness, sleepiness, and fatigue."
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"There's creamer in the fridge and heroin in the top drawer if you need some."
And that's when they noticed something unexpected in their results: The people who drank coffee reported a lower intensity of pain than the people who didn't. Whether or not the subjects reported chronic pain before the study, those who drank the coffee reported less pain on average than those who didn't. And there, dear Office Sociopath, is proof positive that you are causing your co-workers actual physical pain by not refilling the office coffee maker after you take the last cup.
#4. Look at the Part of Your Body That's Hurting
Think about your last injury -- maybe the ramp-induced cracked rib you got trying to ramp several school busses, or perhaps you sliced your finger open while learning to twirl your butterfly knife around like a badass. Whatever it was, chances are you struggled between one of two natural human reactions: The first was to look at anything but the horror movie levels of gore suddenly spurting from your pinkie, while the other was to more closely inspect the damage to assess whether you'd managed to shatter your dreams of one day becoming a world-famous stunt driver slash professional knife fighter. Well, only one of those two reactions can actually reduce the amount of pain you'll feel.
This is another one of those times when you can take advantage of the oddities of your brain's wiring. While our previous article on the subject of pain pointed out how touching your wounds can help you mentally get a grasp on whatever pain you're experiencing, other studies have found that you can reduce the pain by simply looking at your own body.
"Hey, that works out great because I do that pretty much constantly anyway."
In one study, scientists created a mirror contraption that allowed them to manipulate what test subjects saw, and then got down to the science of causing pain to the test subjects' right hands using low-powered infrared lasers (because if you have "infrared pain rays" sitting around your lab, you need to use them for good before a superhero comes knocking). When participants looked at the reflection of their left hand (making it appear as if they were looking at their currently-under-laser-fire right hand), they were able to tolerate a significantly higher amount of pain than when looking at another object. And just to be clear, for the analgesic effect to be triggered, subjects had to be looking at their own hand -- looking at someone else's didn't work.
In a similar experiment performed on subjects suffering from chronic back pain, scientists studied how being able to see their back as they underwent a painful medical procedure affected how they perceived the associated pain. And what they found was that simply being able to see their back -- something that can be a challenge unless you're Mr. Fantastic -- significantly reduced the perceived amount of pain reported by the subjects.
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"Hey, this does work! My hands feel fantastic now!"
Scientists are still trying to work out just how this disconnect from the parts of our body that are experiencing pain affects our perception of said pain, but one thing's for certain: Your default reaction of staring at the ceiling and screaming for Mommy whenever something hurts isn't doing you any favors. If you get over your squeamishness and look at your horrible wound, it'll hurt less.
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Picture this: You awaken in the middle of the night. You have to pee. Bad. You stumble out of bed ... and immediately stub your toe on the dresser. What's your first reaction? If you're anything like us, your first reaction is to howl phrases so vile that your mother (three states away) spontaneously awakens and bursts into tears. What you probably do not do is laugh. Laughing while in pain is what movie characters do to let you know they're insane (see: The Joker). But you know what? Those crazy bastards have it right.
Because while "laughter is the best medicine" is such a cliche that it pains us to even type it, we do think we have an idea where the saying comes from. While laughter won't shrink your tumor or make your carotid artery stop gushing, it does increase your ability to tolerate pain. It's not just because the laughter distracts you from the knife in your chest, the act of laughing releases endorphins, the body's natural pain killers. You will physically feel less pain if you can make yourself laugh.
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"Oh my God, why did I choose to fuck a bear trap?! Hahahaha!"
In a series of six tests, researchers studied a group of volunteers in both a natural setting and in the laboratory. Five of the studies involved watching funny videos versus, say, a documentary or a game of golf. The sixth study sampled actors and audiences at the live theatrical performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
What the researchers found was that test subjects who watched the funny videos had a higher pain threshold compared to those who watched videos of the un-sidesplitting variety. Furthermore, as little as 15 minutes of laughter was enough to increase pain tolerance by a whopping 10 percent.
Look at her. She doesn't even notice she's been cropped in half.
There is a catch, though: The laughter has to be a really good laugh -- you know, the kind that comes from way deep down in your belly and leaves you feeling breathless, the same effect as a good bout of exercise. So, yes, it has to be a maniacal laugh, it can't just be a casual chuckle of a sane person. Try it! The confused looks on the faces of bystanders should just make the whole thing funnier.