Trick Your Brain into Feeling Less Pain

Most of us (especially pregnant ladies) love a good massage. There’s nothing like it to relieve the stress of a long day or achy muscles and let’s be honest...pregnancy comes with lots of aches and pains. It’s no surprise that many women generally enjoy being rubbed, touched or massaged during labor, but did you know that utilizing some massage and touching techniques can actually trick your brain into feeling less pain during labor? Here’s how!

To really understand this concept, let’s delve into a little science for a moment. Your skin has many different types of receptors that transmit sensory information to your brain. The receptors that we’re interested in are called Merkel’s Disks and Meissner's Corpuscles. These receptors tell your brain what you’re feeling - hot, cold, light pressure, massage, vibration, pain, etc. Let’s take a closer look at how each of these can help you trick your brain into feeling less discomfort!

Merkel’s disks are nerve endings that are are found in hairless areas of your body - your palms, soles, eyelids, fingertips and lips. Here’s the skinny: they work very quickly to transmit sensations of sustained touch and pressure to your brain and interfere with pain signals. In other words, activating Merkel’s disks by firm pressure, massage or touch can help you feel less pain!

Used under Creative Commons license. Credit of Jason Lander. 

Used under Creative Commons license. Credit of Jason Lander

Ideas for use during labor:

  • Squeeze a stress ball (but be sure not to tense your shoulders)
  • Squeeze your partner’s hands (again, keep your shoulders relaxed)
  • Get a hand or foot massage
  • Hold onto the squat bar
  • Place your hands on a flat surface and lean your weight on them
  • While seated, put a cool water bottle or soda can under the arch of your foot and roll it back and forth

Meissner's Corpuscles are touch receptors that detect exact location of touch, the initial onset of touch, and low frequency vibration. Basically, they detect changes in texture. They are also found in hairless portions of the skin. When activated, they can interfere with pain signals, just like Merkel’s Disks. The big difference here is that they do adapt rapidly, which means that they stop interfering with pain signals quickly and that you will have to change things up after a few minutes.

Ideas for use during labor (use one of these for 5-10 minutes, then try another for optimum efficacy):

Pregnancy - pregnant woman having contraction
  • Light belly stroking
  • Hold a vibrating massager or have someone use it on your feet
  • Gently rub pleasant textures
  • Stroke your hand rapidly on a flat surface

So at the end of the day when your pregnant body is tired and aching, kick back and have your partner practice some of these techniques. You’ll feel less pain in that moment and be prepared to utilize these techniques to trick your brain into feeling less pain on your baby’s birth day. Enjoy!

For more information on gate control and Merkel’s disks, check out our other pain relieving articles!

You smack your ankle - what do you do? Chances are, you rub or put pressure on it without even thinking about what you’re doing. 

You smack your ankle - what do you do? Chances are, you rub or put pressure on it without even thinking about what you’re doing.