I have long been an advocate for therapeutic swearing in my practice. I am a facial plastic surgeon, and many of the procedures I commonly perform daily include needles, lasers, and light, all of which can be uncomfortable to some people. Multiple modalities of distraction and analgesia are employed on a daily basis, ranging from music (of the patient’s choice), to vibrations, through the medical numbing creams and prescription anti-anxiety medications. Here, I share new studies that correlate well with my experience using therapeutic swearing in plastic surgery
The last option that I always present to patients is “therapeutic swearing”. I leave this to the patient’s interpretation. In all honesty, few people have taken me up on this offer, but I have gotten several smiles and chuckles out of it.
When I was listening to the radio yesterday, I heard an amazing story about the benefits of dropping f-bombs when it comes to pain tolerance. Research from the Swear Lab (yes, this exists in real life) from Keele University in the UK showed that repeatedly saying the f-word (or “dropping f-bombs”, whichever you prefer) were able to tolerate holding their hand in ice cold water for 33% longer than those saying another word. Though simple in design, their study shows scientific backing to my generous (and free) offer of therapeutic swearing to help deal with pain.
These results do not surprise me at all, given my experience. Though the deep breathing patient that is meditating during their Botox or IPL treatment is “easy” to treat, I have found that peoples’ coping mechanisms are as varied as their responses to painful stimuli. Personally delivering pain to many faces has taught me that pain is a very personal response, and extremely difficult to predict. I have patients that have had multiple natural child births that have more difficulty dealing with needles than the typical “finicky” first timer. I have a very anecdotal correlation in my practice, as those that employ therapeutic swearing are more likely to have multiple children, and also more likely to be female.
Pain is just a sensation that is a response to how you are wired. I can deliver the exact same treatment to 20 people, and of those, a few will feel it much more than others. The ones that feel it more are not morally weaker than those that feel it less. They are just wired differently. Furthermore, the ones that feel it more often times try to give this a deeper meaning, as if their increased sensation to sharp pain in their forehead says something about their character or life experiences. My experience tells me that I can predict my patient’s pain about as well as the weather (which I am surprisingly bad at). Knowing this, I offer everyone multiple modalities to deal with discomfort, knowing that most people will just do heavy breathing and close their eyes until the treatment is over.
When I do have a patient with more anxiety or that feels things more than my previous patient, it is nice to have multiple options to make treatments less stressful, and it’s also nice to know that there is actually science behind my observation that therapeutic swearing in plastic surgery works well to reduce pain.