Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Day 449 - Swearing

"That muttered curse word that reflexively comes out when you stub your toe could actually make it easier to bear the throbbing pain, a new study suggests. Swearing is a common response to pain, but no previous research has connected the uttering of an expletive to the actual physical experience of pain.

"Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon," said Richard Stephens of Keele University in England and one of the authors of the new study. "It taps into emotional brain centers and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain."

Stephens and his fellow Keele researchers John Atkins and Andrew Kingston sought to test how swearing would affect an individual's tolerance to pain. Because swearing often has an exaggerating effect that can overstate the severity of pain, the team thought that swearing would lessen a person's tolerance. As it turned out, the opposite seems to be true.

The researchers enlisted 64 undergraduate volunteers and had them submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice. The experiment was then repeated with the volunteer repeating a more common word that they would use to describe a table.

Contrary to what the researcher expected, the volunteers kept their hands submerged longer while repeating the swear word. The researchers think that the increase in pain tolerance occurs because swearing triggers the body's natural “fight-or flight” response. Stephens and his colleagues suggest that swearing may increase aggression (seen in accelerated heart rates), which downplays weakness to appear stronger or more macho. "Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists," Stephens said."*

I have not posted for a while as the headache has been at its best for the past few weeks - up until a few days ago. I got a bit of a cold and since then the headache seems to have partly shifted to the left hand side which is proving to be a complete and utter nightmare as I am not used to the pain being there. I can’t even seem to be able to figure out what level out of 10 it is as the pain has never been on the left hand side for so long.

The other day, when it first moved about, I had a headache on top of the headache. That was a bit of a nightmare - it’s incredible what the body can get used to, and how one can feel two headaches simultaneously. It’s hard to explain unless you have experienced it first hand. I am sure that before the headache started I would not have been able to imagine experiencing two headaches concurrently.

And, once again, I forgot how bad the headache was - when it subsides you can never really picture how forceful the pain had previously been.

I also woke up a few days ago with an unbelievable pain in my teeth and jaw. I felt as if I had spent the night furiously grinding my teeth (I still regularly wear the mouth guard I was given by the dentist one year ago) - not sure if it was due to the headache pain, or possibly just a bad nightmare. Rather odd though as I woke up with my teeth and gums in complete agony. This makes me think the headache could be related to the jaw, but I have had that tested on various occasions and it doesn’t seem to be that..

Let’s just hope all the pain moves back to the right as I feel I am able to cope with it much better when it’s on that side - I guess, once again, it just goes to show how used to pain we become. Maybe I should just swear more to make the pain more tolerable, as the study above seems to suggest.


  1. I have had side shifts in pain lately, did not happen until the pain was almost in control. I hope the side shift for you is something simple like a toothache headache!

  2. And my browser just lost my comment. Okay, time to retype it. My patience has grown so much in the past year.

    Last night I had a 10/10 attack and I seriously felt like (and hoped) that I was going to die. I usually repeat a swear word over and over again when I get in that state, and repeatedly punch something or pace to get through it.

    And now today I'm left with the residual from last night, plus my normal pain, plus I think I feel another attack brewing. So that's three levels of pain I'm dealing with at the moment. It's very disorienting, but I'm just glad the pain isn't all in one spot. The residual is scattered over my whole head, the normal pain is at my temple, and the attack is growing in my forehead. I'm going to force myself to get on the stationary bike today to try to prevent another horrible attack.

  3. I want to thank you for your blog. I do not suffer myself but have a loved one who has struggled with a mysterious headache very similar to yours for years. Your blog has really helped me to become much more understanding and compassionate. I truly appreciate you sharing your story and I really hope you will one day get some relief.

  4. The pain in your teeth and jaw with the side shift in pain may be a sinus infection from the cold. Post sinus surgery I had the worst teeth and jaw pain ever.
    I did want to follow up on the treatment that I have been receiving. The chiropractor adjustments and the surgery to remove a bone spur(causes sluders neuralgia) and to correct a minor deviated septum seemed to have solved my permanent headache. I have never felt better. I have been headache and migraine free for 45 days for the first time in almost 20 years. Knock on wood, afraid it will still come back!

  5. The pain has moved back to the right thank goodness! I can now cope with it better.

    Thanks for your comments, it's nice to know that my blog is somehow helping people in a way. Please do keep on sharing your stories as the more people know about those who suffer from these mysterious headaches and the more we create awareness the better.

  6. Hi! I found your blog while searching "chronic intracranial hypertension" on Google, and I can't believe someone else is going through something very similar. For many years I've had headaches, across my forehead and behind my eyes and at the base of my neck, probably 50% of the time, and ALWAYS a severe one when I lay down. You mentioned yours gets bad especially when lying down -- this is VERY VERY indicative of chronic intracranial hypertension (ICH). I've been diagnosed with ICH simply based on my symptoms and an MRI (which ruled out anything else). I've had no vision problems so far. Forgive me if others have already urged you to pursue the ICH angle, or if you already have, but I'm hoping for you it might be worthwhile.


  7. Hi Anita

    Thanks for your comments. I have looked into Intracranial Hypertension (have a look on the links on the right) although it's something I must look into further - the headache now doesn't seem to worsen that much when lying down; in fact I can no longer seem to even pinpoint when it gets much worse, as I am so used to it by now.

    What are you doing to relieve the pain?

  8. I had been taking topiramate, which reduced the headaches to 2 per day, but did little for the nighttime headache (I used sleeping pills for that.) Unfortunately, since 3 weeks ago I've had a constant headache for some reason, and my neurologist added Diamox, which so far relieves the sensation of pressure in my head and behind my eyes, but I still have the basic headache. It does take time for Diamox to work, though.

    Have you tried either of these drugs? Topiramate is especially good for all sorts of headaches.


  9. I haven't tried any drugs as am trying to go for the natural route.. the last neurologist I saw said to wait and see the natural course of things if I could bare the pain, especially as there has been an improvement in the past few months. He also mentioned that many times taking medicines makes matters worse not only in the long term, but also in the short term... Am a bit reluctant on taking drugs - many have horrible side effects that could end up leaving you with two problems and not just one...

    Do let me know how you're getting on with things.

  10. Question- just curious. Does there seem to be any correlation between what side of your head the pain is on, and whether you're left handed or right handed? I'm a lefty, and my headaches are all on the left. Trying to figure out if that's pure coincdence, or if others have their pain on their dominant side.

  11. I wouldn't know if the pain is necessarily on the dominant side - incidentally mine is. I am right handed and the pain is on the right. I do remember seeing a chart at the kinesiologist's which shows how the right hand side of the body along with all the lower part of the body is connected to certain parts, whilst the left to others - sorry for the bad explanation but will see if I can find a chart online and post a link to it so this makes more sense!

  12. Finally someone who understands!!!! I try not to dwell on the headaches and am not having luck staying off the medical sites. Self diagnosing can really make the headache worse. Not knowing what's going on is horrible. In addition, playing musical medication is the pits! It's weird and relieving at the same time to know that I'm not losing my mind. Will look into ICH. Thank you so much for this blog.