Weird Science Thing of the Day: Texting Kills Pain?

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

Everyone always gives me a hard time about how I rely too much on my phone, but I felt vindicated when I read this story about the benefits of texting right before surgery. It turns out, according to a new study by Pain Medicine journal, that people who text right before they get their anesthesia end up needing fewer post-op painkillers.

And it’s not just about having any old distraction. The study had some people play Angry Birds instead of texting, and the Angry Bird players asked for more medication than the texters did. I think maybe they picked the wrong game; Candy Crush would’ve been more soothing.

As someone who was on my BlackBerry when I was in labor with my daughter, I get it. (It was 2007! The iPhone had only come out a few months before!) I wasn’t one of those women who couldn’t put down her work to have a baby, I was just getting really bored between contractions and liked having people to talk to about something else. And yes, my ego enjoyed the all-caps “WHY ARE YOU ON YOUR BLACKBERRY, AREN’T YOU IN LABOR?” astonishment, but it was also just nice to chime in on other things, instead of dwelling on the fact that another contraction was on the way and a baby would soon be coming out of my hoo-haa.

The most fascinating thing about this study, though, is that texting a stranger was actually more helpful than texting a friend. It sorta makes sense: A friend is more likely to offer sympathy about the upcoming surgery and talk about it, and maybe express some of their own concern under the guise of reassurance. A stranger presents an opportunity to talk about something else entirely, which was the appeal for me of contributing to a round robin of work emails when I was about to give birth.

Patients who didn’t use their cell phones at all were six times more likely to ask for supplemental painkillers than those who texted with a research assistant in a “get to know you” sort of conversation. The entrepreneur in me is wondering if I can set up a service for this somehow, offering up chatty strangers to text with people before the mask comes down or the needle goes in. You could even have people specify certain favorite topics or hobbies they have in common, like when you see Facebook posts from lonely friends saying, “I need someone to talk about Scandal!”

I’m envisioning a new site for freelancers—the name some of us like to use when we’re between jobs—where we could sign up and list our available times and favorite distracting topics. It’s also a great job for shy people, because all you have to do is text. The possibilities are endless.

This article was originally published on