Can swearing actually help you? Scientists now believe that there is therapeutic value in the act of swearing, that it can help physical pain.

The traditional logic used to dictate that swearing actually seemed to worsen pain, through an act known as “catastrophizing.” When we catastrophize, we often leap to the conclusion that the pain we are experiencing is the worst thing ever. It ignites a negative feedback loop where we begin to tell ourselves “I just can't do this!” Swearing was thought to reinforce that negative self-feedback loop.

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No Pain No Game (Sergey Galyonkin, CC BY-SA)

In October, President Trump finally declared what much of the country has known for a long time: the opioid crisis is a public health emergency. Yet while nearly 100 Americans die from opioid-related deaths each day, chronic pain continues to vex more than 25 million Americans. But the fast-developing world of virtual reality (VR) technology is providing relief to patients in clinical trials, hospitals, and soon in our own homes. This growing industry of pain-relieving VR may be at least part of the solution to the opioid epidemic—without the addictive, potentially fatal side effects.

How VR Reduces Pain

The first successful experiments using VR to control pain, conducted in 1996, focused on the acute pain of burn victims. Particularly during bandage changes, where the patients were not at rest, opioids such as morphine failed to control the intense pain. By the early 2000s, cognitive psychologists Hunter Hoffman and Dave Patterson, of the University of Washington in Seattle, had developed a VR computer game called SnowWorld to help patients ignore pain signals while enjoying the intriguing game scenarios. They placed patients inside a $90,000 unit with an eight-pound helmet linked to a refrigerator-sized computer to play the game.

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[DIGEST: Wired, Brisbane Times, Pharmaceutical Drug Review]

On March 21, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control issued its first-ever recommendation to limit the prescription of habit-forming painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin, noting that about 40 Americans die each day from overdosing on prescription painkillers and an estimated 1.9 million people are addicted to prescription opiates. The problem of painkiller addiction has reached epidemic proportions.

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