Laughter helps against pain

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Laughing together reduces the feeling of pain

Hearty laughter has long been considered extremely beneficial to health. Scientists at Oxford University have now shown in a comprehensive study that laughing also helps reduce pain. In the British journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society B", the researchers report that laughing significantly increases the threshold for physical pain.

Laughter has a multitude of positive effects on the human organism, such as loosening cramped muscles in the shoulders and neck, promoting blood circulation and reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems, explains Robin Dunbar from the British Academy Centenary Research Project at Oxford University and colleagues. Relaxed, collective laughter triggers feelings of "well-being" that are caused by the release of endorphins in the brain, according to the British scientists. However, according to the experts, laughter is not only important for interpersonal communication, but also plays a significant role in terms of health.

Laughter increases the stimulus threshold for physical pain As part of their study, the researchers at Oxford University examined the pain sensitivity of volunteers who watched either a funny video or an informative documentary film and were simultaneously exposed to an increasing pain impulse. For example, the scientists were able to use cuffs to measure blood pressure, which were inflated further and further, to determine the pressure at which the test subjects felt the cuffs to be uncomfortable or painful. Robin Dunbar and colleagues found that study participants who watched funny videos together with other people and laughed a lot had a significantly higher stimulus threshold for physical pain than the subjects in the documentary film group. Correspondingly, the study participants from the latter group found it uncomfortable to inflate the cuff on their upper arm, the British scientists report.

Release of endorphins necessitates increased pain resistance Robin Dunbar and colleagues cite the increased release of endorphins as the reason for the increased pain resistance when laughing together. The endorphins, also known as happiness hormones, are particularly important for pain processing and coping with physical and psychological stress, the researchers at the University of Oxford report. With increased distribution, the stimulus threshold is apparently reduced and those affected are significantly more resistant to pain, according to the experts. The British researchers suspect that "physical activity in laughter triggers the activation of the endorphin system" and thus leads to increased pain tolerance. In the past, comparable effects had already been demonstrated with great physical exertion, such as endurance sports. The scientists see the reason for the increased endorphin release when laughing in the continued exhalation without taking a breath in between. This causes a tiring effect that ultimately results in the release of the endorphins, explained Robin Dunbar and colleagues. This phenomenon was particularly strong among the subjects who watched the funny videos together with others. The reason for this is obvious: together, funny things just get even funnier and the test subjects laughed accordingly at the videos shown.

Laughter therapies help with numerous health complaints So-called laugh therapies have long been known in naturopathy and among psychotherapists and have been used in the past to treat patients with emotional problems, massive psychological stress and chronic loss of appetite. In the future, laughing therapy could possibly be extended to another treatment field in view of the current study results. According to the experts, use in the treatment of patients with chronic pain seems promising. (fp)

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Image: Rainer Sturm /

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