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Laughter plays key role in managing pain

September 17, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Experts believe 50 million American women live with one or more neglected chronic pain conditions, like migraines, irritable bowel syndrome or fibromyalgia.Many try to manage the pain with medication, but some experts provide a different kind of prescription: laughter.

Geri Jewel, who's hosting the For Grace's 3rd annual Women in Pain Conference, made history when she became the first person with a disability to be on a major network show, appearing on "The Facts of Life."

"A lot of people didn't know what quite to do with me back then. I was way before my time," said Jewel.

People made a big deal about the fact she had cerebral palsy, what they didn't know was she was also in a lot of pain. It got worse in the late '90s when she fell and damaged her spine in five places.

"Laughter was one of my medicines," said Jewel.

Humor helps her cope.

Organizer Cynthia Toussaint says after 28 years of suffering from CRPS, a chronic and debilitating nerve pain condition, she's says in partial remission thanks to keeping a sense of humor.

"I think we're probably on the brink on a scientific study that is going to tell us why laughter works," said Toussaint.

Laughter therapist Dr. Steven Sultanoff agrees.

"We have several studies that indicate that tolerance to pain is increased with deep heartfelt laughter," said Sultanoff.

Whatever the science behind it is, nobody can deny that laughter plays a key role in managing pain, both physical and emotional. But experts are quick to point out that there is a difference between humor and laughter.

"Humor activates wit which is a perspective, it shifts the way we think. And we know that thinking is directly related to pain," said Sultanoff.

His prescription: a daily humor activity. Join a joke club, read the comics and surround yourself with funny people.

Another tip is to picture a time when something made you laugh so hard you almost cried. Dr. Sultanoff says just having that image in your mind can be enough to give you some relief in that moment.

Jewel says the funniest people in the world are those who are in the greatest pain.

"It takes tremendous pain to want to create the healing laughter," she said.


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