Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Puzzles as pain relievers

The History of mankind is full of references to our constant craving for painkillers but the history of pain research and modern pain treatment begins in the 1800s. it was only In the 1850's when Charles Gabriel Pravaz, a French surgeon, and Alexander Wood of Edinburgh independently invented the syringe that Injections of morphine were generally used for local pain. The first public demonstration of surgical anesthesia, shown in the above picture, took place in Boston on October 16, 1846.

According to Wikipedia a painkiller is any member of the diverse group of drugs used to relieve pain. Analgesic drugs act in various ways on the peripheral and central nervous systems; they include paracetamol, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as the salicylates, narcotic drugs as morphine, synthetic drugs with narcotic properties such as tramadol and more. There are some other classes of drugs, not normally considered as analgesics but still use to treat neuropathic pain syndromes but they are all drugs. It's got to be a drug.

Poppy: ancient pain relievers

Nevertheless, there are other forms of pain killers that do not fit to the above encyclopedic definition but still used by people as effective pain relievers. For example, have you ever considered puzzles and other casual games as pain relievers? A study conducted about a year ago shows many people do just that. The majority of casual games players, according to the study, are females typically playing the games as a form of stress relief while many of them add the games also provide good mental stimulation. Dr. Carl Arinoldo, a Stony Brook NY-based psychologist and expert on stress management who conducted the research, advocates them as a source of both stress relief and cognitive exercise:

“Casual word and puzzle computer games, such as ‘Bookworm’ and ‘Bejeweled’ can actually develop new cellular brain connections thereby helping to keep the healthy brain active and vital and by seriously attending to the word and puzzle games, people can control stress by cognitively ‘blocking out’ the negative stresses of the day and ultimately train themselves to do this more reflexively. Unlike traditional videogames that tend to over-stimulate while they engage our minds, casual games have a calming effect while still providing an acceptable level of distraction and entertainment.”

Among the findings of the survey were responses to questions regarding the location, duration and reasons for playing Survey findings included:

88% of players indicated they experienced stress relief from playing casual games and 74% cited mental exercise as a benefit; when asked to choose the most important reasons for playing, 41% picked “stress relief/relaxation,” more than twice the number (19%) who chose “entertainment”; 27% said the games provided distraction from chronic pain and/or fatigue, and fully 8% said they derived actual relief from chronic pain and/or fatigue.

The later is the most amazing figure of this research in my opinion. What could be better than reliving other people's pain? Casual computer games, defined for survey purposes as “puzzle, word, simple action/arcade and other family-friendly, non-violent games which can be played on computers and mobile devices.”

The above screenshot is a solution of a gigantic Pic-a-Pix puzzle, one of the most intriguing yet still unrevealed logic puzzles, made by Conceptis. If you ever tried solving one of those you know how much attention and distraction they are able to generate. The puzzle in the picture, as well as easier and smaller ones, can be downloaded or played online on Conceptis' website.


  1. This is interesting. Certainly one can expect to have less pain when relaxed, but I never had thought of the puzzle connection.

  2. I think part of experiencing pain is focusing on it too much. I can understand that; When you experience pain, you start to concentrate on the best possible positions where the pain is not so strong. When the pain continues, you get distressed by the thoughts of the pain never going away.
    I have not experienced that but I have had panic attacks for 20 years and the best cure sofar has been the puzzles and most of all the same puzzles Gil is mentioning.
    These puzzles demand your whole concentration. There is no time for worrying about the pain ot panic but a great positive feeling when the puzzle starts to take form :)

  3. Added you to bloglog, technorati and tried to Digg you. Hope the last worked --- computer acting up.

  4. Jessica: I was also surprised by this information and I already heard a bunch of weird reasons for people to puzzle.

    Leena: I have experienced pretty serious pain in my mid twenties when I had one of my disks (in my back, not my workstation) coming u with its own opinion regarding what I should and shouldn't do anymore. I know the mind is capable of reducing pain when its totally dedicated and focused on something. yes.

    Sandra: thanks for adding me to your friend lists. I appreciate it!


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