Can A Smile Really Reduce The Pain Of An Injection?

  • Phlebotomy Technician
  • March 11, 2024
  • 3 min read

Hundreds of thousands of phlebotomists across the U.S conduction million of blood draws every day and for all of those phlebotomists, one of their key responsibilities is to make the patient as comfortable as possible during that procedure.

New research from the University of California, Irvine School of Ecology, has indicated that simply the act of smiling can reduce the sensation of pain associated with blood draws and reduce stress-induced physiological responses in participants.

Can A Smile Really Reduce The Pain Of An Injection?

Smiling Through the Pain

The impetus for the study conducted at the University of California was the so-called grimace response. Humans, and certain other animals, close their eyes tightly, raise their cheeks, and bare their teeth when reacting to acute pain.

In humans, this response to pain is almost identical to smiling and why these two expressions, which occur for very different reasons, should share so many aspects is unclear. 

The team from the Irvine School of Ecology set out to test whether these facial movements are beneficial in the context of stress and pain and whether manipulating participants’ facial expressions during a needle injection might impact their experience of pain and associated stress levels.

The Study

The study itself was conducted on 231 participants who all received a shot of saline solution using a needle similar to those used to deliver a flu vaccine. 

The participants were split into four groups, and the scientists manipulated participant’s faces into the following different expressions using chopsticks held in the mouth, both before and after the injection.

The different groups had their facial expressions manipulated in different ways, such as:

  • A Duchenne smile: a sincere smile, where the corners of the mouth come up and wrinkles appear around the eyes
  • a non-Duchenne smile
  • a grimace
  • a neutral expression
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The participants were then given the placebo shot and their heart rates were monitored to check their stress levels. 

The Results

When the researchers examined heart rate data, they found that the Duchenne smile group had significantly lower heart rates than the neutral group. There were no significant differences between the other groups.

According to the authors, these results indicate that “both smiling and grimacing can improve subjective needle pain experiences, but Duchenne smiling may be better suited for blunting the stress-induced physiological responses of the body versus other facial expressions.”

Keeping the Patient Smiling

As part of our Phlebotomy School, you’ll learn how to keep even the most needle-shy patient calm during a blood draw and how to use body language and conversation to reduce anxiety and the fear of pain.

Start Your New Career Today

At Northwest Career College, we pride ourselves on providing one of the premier Phlebotomy Schools in Las Vegas. Our established and seasoned instructors will take you through every aspect of Phlebotomy and Northwest offers day, afternoon, and night classes to accommodate your busy Las Vegas work and family schedule. Call us today at (702) 403-1592 to speak to one of our admissions specialists about your new Phlebotomy career.

Corey Del Pino
Dean Of Clinical Programs

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Corey Del Pino attended Northern Arizona University after high school and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology with a Chemistry Minor in 2012. After attending Mohave Community College and earning her Medical…Read Full Bio

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