Look away now! Why turning your head really does take the sting out of injections
06:37 GMT, 16 May 2012
It is age old advice handed down by school nurses to generations of children receiving their regular jabs. Now scientists have found looking away during an injection genuinely does make them less painful.
A study in the appropriately titled medical journal Pain, found that removing fearful anticipation helped to remove the sting of an injection.
Researchers from the University of Medicine in Berlin and University Medical Centre in Hamburg have found your past experience of needle pricks influences how you react later on.
Look away now: Volunteers felt the most pain from a mild electrical shock when watching a video of someone being pricked by a needle
They asked a group of volunteers to watch video clips showing a hand being pricked by a needle, a hand being touched by a cotton bud and a hand on its own.
The screen was positioned in such a way that it looked as if it might be the volunteer’s own hand they were watching.
While they viewed the clips, small electrical stimuli were passed through their own hand, some painful and others painless.
The volunteers reported that they felt the most pain during the clips of a needle pricking a hand compared to the cotton bud or hand alone clips.
This was backed up by the results of monitoring their eyes and watching for pupil dilation – a sign of activity in the nervous system, stimulated by pain.
Lead researcher Marion Hofle said: 'Throughout our lives we repeatedly experience that needles cause pain when pricking our skin.
'But expectations – like information given by the clinician prior to an injection, may also influence how viewing needle pricks affects pain.'
Holfe said the simple advice from a nurse works because it reduces a patient’s expectation about the ‘strength of forthcoming pain prior to an injection.'
She added: 'Viewing a needle prick leads to enhanced pain perception as well as to enhanced autonomic nervous system activity.
'We’ve provided empirical evidence in favour of the common advice not to look at the needle prick when receiving an injection.'