The Blue vs. Red Experiment: How Colored Light Can Influence Pain
Have you noticed how pain medication commercials always use red to indicate areas of pain? When describing a spinal disc herniation, does the phrase “red hot disc” ring a bell? Red is pretty universally associated with heat, pain, and tissuedamage. Itdoesn’thelpthatblood isredtoo. With that in mind, scientists developed a clever study to see whether they could manipulate their subjects’ perceived levels of pain by using this learned color association. They placed a metal rod cooled to -4oF on the hands of 33 volunteers for half a second, 32 times each. The rod was attached to a panel with a red and a blue light and one of these lights was activated just prior to or at the same time as the rod touching the skin. The participates were told they would be experiencing probes of different temperatures (lies!) and were asked to rate the pain intensity, pain unpleasantness, and the temperature (rated from extremely cold to extremely hot) using 11-point scales.
D e s p i t e n o t changing the temperature of the rod, when the red light turned on, the participants rated it ashotandwhen the blue light turned on, they perceived it as
cold (byadifferenceofabout5.5points).The red lightalsoresulted inhigherratingsofpain intensity and unpleasantness. Additionally, if the red light turned on just before rather than at the same time as the rod touching the skin, pain was rated as more unpleasant (though not more intense). This warning effect was not present for trials using the blue light. Finally, with the red light, participants rated the pain as more intense and the temperature hotter when they watched the rod touch their skin as opposed to watching only the lights.
Basedonthesesignificantfindings,theresearchers concludedthatwarnings,attention,andassociated meanings relating to tissue damage (such as the color red)areallcontextualcues thatcanalter the experience of pain. Basically, the preconceived notions you bring to the context of your pain experiencehavethepowerto increaseordecrease both pain intensity and unpleasantness. Let’s start changing you or a loved one’s injury story intoahealingstory.Email info@bodygears. com to meet with a physical therapist educated in modern pain science.
Exercise of theMonth Try this exercise to reintroducemovement to a sore back or neck
Dr. Toshi Odaira, PT, DPT, Physical Therapist
Toshi earned her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the City University of New York’s Hunter College in Manhattan. She also has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Bates College in Maine. Toshi is a manual orthopedic physical therapist experienced in Functional Dry Needling. Toshi is also a Women’s Health Therapist experienced with pelvicfloor rehabilitationandablehelpwomen withavarietyofpelvichealth issuesaswellasprenatalandpostpartum needs.
Certifications and Training Doctor of Physical Therapy Licensed Physical Therapist by the State of Illinois APTA/IPTA Member Women’s Health Therapist Education City University of New York, Hunter College Doctorate in Physical Therapy, 2014
Lay on your back with your knees bent and reach your arms straight up to the ceiling with your palms touching. Start by rotating your head and your arms in the same direction, 10 times to one side. Next, rotate your head the same direction and your arms in the opposite direction 10 times. Finally, rotate your head and your knees to the same side with your arms going in the opposite direction 10 times. Then, complete this series again rotating your head in the other direction. This should not be painful and you can start with a small range of rotation to your tolerance, increasing the range as able.
Bates College Bachelor of Biology, 2006
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