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Is It Possible to Laugh Away Pain?

You’ve probably heard the expression that “laughter is the best medicine”, but like most people, you never thought too much about it. You do know, like everyone else that you do feel better after you’ve had a good guffaw but never directly connected it to your overall health. However, that is what a team of researchers have actually done through a series of research studies. After analyzing the effects of laughter on pain management, they came up with the following conclusions: “As a result, humor helps to reflect pain, thus helping both the patients … to deal better with stress. … Humor can be used specifically as a cognitive technique, for example, in terms of distraction to control the pain and increase pain tolerance.”

While the conclusions on the surface seemed to be positive, Professor Willibald Ruch of Zurich University added a warning. While laughter can be very effective it must be pure joy felt in order to relieve the pain, the kind of laughter that comes from getting the whole body involved in the experience. Fake smiles and forced laughter just will not do the trick.

How Laughter Works to Manage Pain

Pure, genuine laughter releases what are called the “feel-good” chemicals called endorphins that help fight pain. These are the same chemicals that are released when you exercise, are excited, eat spicy foods, and fall in love. They give you a “natural high” that makes it easier to endure pain.

In numerous tests, the ability to tolerate pain jumped after a good laugh. Researchers have discovered that laughter raises the body’s threshold of pain; they believe that the long series of exhalations that are a part of a good laugh causes the abdominal muscles to become physically exhausted as they would in exercise. This triggers an endorphin release, which helps a patient to tolerate more pain. Still, even with these positive results, laughter as medicine only worked well when the participant was in good company. According to Live Science: “Across all tests, the participants’ ability to tolerate pain jumped after laughing. On average, watching about 15 minutes of comedy in a group increased pain threshold by 10 percent. Participants tested alone showed slightly smaller increases in their pain threshold.”

So, when you’re dealing with chronic pain and nothing else seems to work, getting a bunch of your friends together to have a rousing good time may be an alternative solution to coping with the pain.

The Risks

While there are rare cases of side effects and health problems from a good belly laugh, there are some very serious health risks for certain people. Clearly however, the gains will far outweigh the risks if you’re not one of an elite group that has discovered that laughter can literally be hazardous to your health. Cases have been reported where prolonged laughter has produced protrusion of hernias, inhaling foreign objects, triggers an asthma attack, incontinence, and may even cause headaches.

There have also been some cases reported where people who have laughed for extended periods of time have developed a hole in their hearts as a result. As reported in CBC News: “The researchers also listed pathological causes of laughter, most commonly epilepsy (gelastic seizures). … We infer that laughter in any form carries a low risk of harm and may be beneficial.”

While the risks of hazards to your health are low and the damaging effects of laughter are usually experienced by those who already have serious medical problems or are elderly and in frail condition there is still good reason to have a good belly shake every now and again.

Something More Reliable

Still, when you’re dealing with chronic pain, it is difficult to generate a truly genuine and heartfelt laugh to help relieve your painful condition. The very fact that the laughter is not planned or expected is the main reason why laughter works. When you’re in pain, it is extremely difficult to gather a bunch of close friends and relatives together to give you a good jelly belly. For more consistent results to work through your pain management there are more reliable alternatives to choose from.

While drugs may have produced positive results, you run the risk of some nasty side effects as a result of the drug’s toxicity. Other treatments, like shots or surgery are highly invasive and can literally throw your life completely off track. Of all the alternative medicines found for consistent and effective pain management, the TENS is completely non-toxic and non-invasive.

It is comprised of a small hand-held device with electrodes that can be attached to the painful area of the body. When switched on it sends a flood of small electrical impulses through the nervous system that can literally block the pain messages from getting to the brain. It also helps the body to naturally release those pain-fighting endorphins that will increase your tolerance to the pain.

While using the TENS is not the cure to chronic pain, it is one way to deal with it without running the risk of doing major harm to your body.