By Amy Baxter, MD, CEO of MMJ Labs and inventor of Buzzy® for shots and VibraCool Drug Free Pain Relief
Eight ways to fight needle fatigue
While the media focuses on needle phobia, there is a less drastic but equally draining phenomenon that can affect people requiring needle pain on a periodic basis. “Needle Fatigue” is different from phobia – on the outside, there’s no drama, no fainting, no fuss, but on the inside a low-intensity dread that can delay medicines for days. Needle fatigue is less of an “Oh, no!” and more of an “over it.” This is an extremely common scenario – in fact, research showed 94% of insulin pump users still had physiologic fear symptoms [Kruger DF Diabetes met 2015:8;49-56 ] with each insertion. Ongoing fight or flight responses like increased heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol release can burn you out, even when your mind is willing.
But whether fear or fatigue, new research addresses methods to reduce the pain and fear of needing a needle at any age.
1. Pain Management. When time permits, needle pain can be greatly reduced by using topical pain relief – specifically, topical anesthetic numbing creams and gels — which numb the skin in 20-60 minutes. Practical household hint: Glad® Press-N-Seal can be used instead of than the commercial medical covers. More comfortable to remove, and much less expensive.
2. Let your brain do its thing. Overwhelm other competing nerves with sensations that aren’t so painful. Studies have found that when someone’s hand is in ice water, they can handle more intense pain everywhere else in the body. This works both through something called gate control (e.g. cool water soothes a burn) as much as brain bandwidth. Vibration and cold have been studied together; when put between the brain and the pain (especially after numbing a shot area directly), they can decrease needle pain up to 80%. Buzzy® is an award-winning device that provides cold and numbing. www.Buzzyhelps.com/products
3. Relax the muscles. Pushing medication into taut muscles makes it hurt more, now and later. Even passively stretched muscles hurt. Rather than bending over and going for a gluteal stick, try lying on your side with the buttocks muscles relaxed. Do the same for thigh shots; sitting up causes the muscles to be active keeping you balanced, so go for a side position.
4. Distract your mind. Counting and engaging in unrelated tasks can reduce pain by half. At a minimum, count corners, ceiling tiles, or holes in an air grate. Some studies have found that active engagement can be more effective at reducing pain for teens and adults.
5. Distract your senses. The brain can only process so much at one time. Buy five packs of sugar-free gum, mix the sticks, pick one at random, and try to figure out the flavor. Gulp a cold, sweet beverage, then concentrate on swallowing at the moment of injection. Use other senses to counter paying attention to pain.
6. Focus on something you can control. Whether you're thinking about the health or life benefits of the shot, concentrate on that. With fertility shots, for example, think of cuddling or look at a picture of a baby. Building an idea in your mind and mentally “going there” can help with pain.
7. Visualize or meditate. For meditation to be effective, you need to practice the positive or relaxing images. At a non-injection time, breathe evenly while visualizing light, energy, or that feeling you get after exercise coming out of the injection. Then when you inject, recall that trained relaxed positive image. This takes time, but is worth it. To get a handle on how to start meditating, this app is free: http://app.stopbreathethink.org/
8. Be a scientist. If you know you have multiple needle events coming up, keep records of what works best and what doesn’t. Being an observer, even of yourself, adds distance that can give you more control. More control = less fear. Less fear = less pain.
Do needles make you nervous? If you have a strategy that reduces needle fatigue or pain, please share your experiences and tips to the comments section.
You can reach Dr. Amy Baxter at firstname.lastname@example.org.