31 July 2015

Analgesic Texting

Welcome back. Do you text? I don’t. I use an old flip cellphone, which isn’t very smart (i.e., the phone), and my fingers would mangle every word on the small keyboard. It’s the same cellphone I blogged about four years ago (Technology Update), except now, it’s not in the car glove compartment and I turn it on. When that phone dies, after a suitable period of mourning, I’ll probably get a smartphone and start texting. I’ll hold off on thumb exercises and learning texting abbreviations until then.

Since I don’t text, I have little feel for how distracting texting can be. That distraction can be hazardous, I understand, but it turns out that it can also be quite beneficial. A study from Cornell and McGill universities and LaSalle Hospital, Quebec, found that patients who texted during minor surgery reduced their need for painkiller.

Phone Distractions During Surgery

This doesn’t appear to be minor,
below-the-waist surgery and the
patient isn’t texting, but I hope
you’ll get the idea. (Multiple
The investigators randomly assigned 98 volunteer patients, who would be receiving regional anesthesia for minor, below-the-waist surgeries, to 1 of 4 groups. Three of the groups would use mobile phones throughout the procedure either to play the game “Angry Birds,” text with a friend or family member, or text with a stranger--a member of the research team who was instructed to converse about getting to know the patient. The fourth group would receive the standard, no phone treatment.

Analysis of analgesia received during surgery showed patients who received the standard treatment were nearly twice as likely to receive supplemental painkiller as those who played Angry Birds, 4.4 times as likely to receive supplemental painkiller as those texting a friend or family member, and 6.8 times as likely to receive supplemental relief as those texting a stranger.

As to why texting with strangers would be more distracting--require less pain relief--than texting with family or friends, the researchers found the conversations with strangers were more self-affirming and emotionally positive, while conversations with family and friends related more to biology, the body and negative emotions.

Wrap Up

A few months ago, I blogged about the health benefits bestowed by hugging (Hugs for Health). It appears that text messaging, in offering pain relief benefits that exceed standard distraction techniques during minor surgery and probably during other clinical procedures, provides comparable social support. Nevertheless, I still prefer hugging. OK, maybe not during surgery.

Thanks for stopping by.


Research report on texting during surgery in Pain Medicine journal and article on study in Cornell Chronicle:


  1. Hi Warren,

    Just popped by, and wanted to let you know I really enjoyed this article - and the preceding one. Your writing is certainly much more scientific than mine - and I always learn something. But here's a tip that might help you. Buy a Smart phone (I LOVE MY IPHONE!) and don't bother using the keypad. Use voice recognition to type and you will never be 'all thumbs again". It is a wonderful invention. With a little practice, you can use voice for all typing requirements.

    Hope you are enjoying your summer - it has been incredibly hot and dry here.

    ...the Silver Fox

  2. Many thanks, Silver. Interesting. Everyone I know uses their thumbs. Anyway, I hardly use my little flip cellphone and don't look forward to carrying anything bigger.