Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain

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Distraction means turning your attention to something other than the pain. People use this method without realizing it when they watch television or listen to music to take their minds off a worry or their pain.

Distraction may be used alone to manage mild pain or used with medicine to manage brief episodes of severe pain, such as pain related to procedures. Distraction is useful when you’re waiting for pain medicine to start working. If the pain is mild, you may be able to distract yourself for hours.

How to use distraction

Any activity that you must focus on can be used for distraction. Distractions can be internal, such as counting, singing to yourself, praying, or repeating statements in your head such as “I can cope.” Or distractions can be external, such as needlework, model building, or painting. Losing yourself in a good book might divert your mind from pain. Watching TV and listening to music are also good distraction methods. Slow, rhythmic breathing can be used as along with distraction as a relaxation method. Visiting with friends or family is another useful distraction technique.

You may find it helpful to listen to rather fast music through a headset or earphones. To help keep your attention on the music, tap out the rhythm. This technique does not require much energy, so it may be very useful when you’re tired.

After using some distraction techniques, people have reported feeling tired, irritable, and in more pain. If this happens to you, try different techniques, and use them only when you have mild pain.

Last Medical Review: 06/10/2014
Last Revised: 06/10/2014