How does distraction work in the management of pain?

Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2005 Apr;9(2):90-5. doi: 10.1007/s11916-005-0044-1.


Engaging in thoughts or activities that distract attention from pain is one of the most commonly used and highly endorsed strategies for controlling pain. The process of distraction appears to involve competition for attention between a highly salient sensation (pain) and consciously directed focus on some other information processing activity. In this article, the evidence for distraction from pain is examined and the qualities of pain, the distractor, and some individual difference variables that have been shown influence the effectiveness of distraction are described. There has been little examination of the use of distraction in chronic pain, but some ancillary evidence suggests that it should be used with caution.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Management*
  • Perceptual Distortion / physiology*