We have all been in the situation where you are supposed to leave in an hour to meet friends for dinner, but are thinking of canceling because we are just not up to it. You don’t feel like being social because you are having a headache, your knee throbs, or your back hurts. Well, canceling may not be the smart thing to do.
A study by Oxford University showed that people with more friends and a large social network have a higher pain tolerance. They attributed this effect to endorphins, which are brain chemicals that act to relieve pain and also give us feelings of pleasure. Its pain-killing effect is stronger than morphine. The researchers say the results prove the Brain Opioid Theory of Social Interaction, which says that interacting with friends trigger positive emotions and causes endorphins to bind to opioid receptors in the brain.
Another recent study suggests something similar, but due to a totally different mechanism, release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone released in the pituitary that has several roles in the body including regulating social interaction – some call it the “Love Hormone”, – triggering uterine contractions during delivery, and the release of breast milk after delivery. However, it also has an important role in modulating pain.
When someone is in acute pain, this information is sent from the site of the injury or source of pain via peripheral nerves to the spinal cord, which then sends the signal up to the hypothalamus in the brain. Here a group of 30 neurons receive the message and trigger the release of oxytocin, which then travels back down to anesthetize pathways in both the peripheral nerves and the spinal cord to decrease the pain.
So if you are looking for a powerful combination of medications to take to help lessen your pain, going out with friends may be just the thing you need.