Whenever my TMJ doctor does trigger point injections on me, one of his nurses will gently tap on my shoulder or head on the opposite side from where the injection is going. It took me a couple of visits before I realized this was a distraction technique, and it works. I’ve often relied on distraction as a pain management tool, but even more so in the last couple of years. Blogging is just one way I distract myself from the pain. Although at times the fog is there and blogging isn’t an option, on days like that I might play what my husband calls a “random clicky game” on Facebook (the ones that need little strategy other than clicking the mouse button or space bar repeatedly). Therefore, I can’t say I was surprised when I read this 2012 study that showed that distraction is a valid pain management tool.
The real bottom line of the study was that placebos work, but that placebos combined with distraction work even better. A large % of how medications work is based on our own expectations. Just like “recreational” drugs, we are likely to have the result we expect to have. If we are told that something will help our pain, we are likely to believe it will help, and therefore feel some improvement based solely on using the placebo medication. One thing that’s important to note is that the participants in this study did not have chronic pain (at least as far as we can tell from the info provided in the study), pain was created through electrical current. The study was repeated over a three-day period; pain was instigated through electrical current, and participants had a cream applied to their skin (they were either told it was analgesic, or non-analgesic). Their results indicated that the placebo reduced pain (enough that people said they’d pay $20 for the cream), and the distraction task reduced pain; however, there was not an interaction between the task and the placebo (one didn’t impact the other).