I seem to remember hearing a medical term for the act of causing pain to one part of your body to relieve a chronic pain elsewhere in the body. For instance, someone who suffers from chronic back pain might break their finger so that they can stop focusing on their back pain. Or someone with a broken arm might intentionally drop something on their foot so the focus of pain transfers to their foot for a while. Is there such a term for this type of pain management technique?

I was thinking this was called "deferred pain", but I cannot find anything on Google for that. Most of the search terms I've come up with lead me to "referred pain," but that's not the term I'm looking for. That's completely different than what I'm talking about.


I believe this act is known by several terms: self-harm, self-injury, and self-mutilation. People who inflict injuries onto themselves are looking to relieve pain, be it psychological or physical, from a pre-existing one. The injury releases endorphins to the brain and acts like a painkiller.

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that act similarly to morphine and reduce the amount of pain we experience when we are hurt. Joggers often report experiencing a "runners high" when reaching a physically stressful period. This "high" is the physiological reaction to the release of endorphins - the masking of pain by a substance that mimics morphine. When people self-injure, the same process takes place. Endorphins are released which limit or block the amount of physical pain that's experienced. Sometimes people who intentionally hurt themselves will even say that they felt a "rush" or "high" from the act. Given the role of endorphins, this makes perfect sense.

Perhaps the OP was remembering a scene from House, the TV series, where Dr Gregory House cuts himself because he has no access to vicodin.

Cameron: House, these cuts are straight, in a row. You did this on purpose.
House: Cutting releases endorphins, endorphins relieve pain.
You going to get me some pills?

Cameron: No.
House: Well, then you can leave.

House M.D, season 3, episode 10

  • While this may be related, I think Lawrence's suggestions are nearer the mark. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 27 '16 at 9:31
  • The examples from House are great and there are other examples from the show as well that fit what I'm looking for. There is another episode where he breaks his hand to relieve his leg pain. The term I'm looking for refers more to the act of doing this. It was something along the lines of "pain deferment" – Drew Chapin Aug 27 '16 at 20:57
  • Hello, thank you for your helpful comment. Would the term Brain Reorganization be perhaps more relevant, do you think? This is basically about retraining the brain to ignore or minimize pain signals. – user193059 Aug 27 '16 at 21:02

To stimulate blood-flow to promote healing, Counter-irritants are sometimes used.

In traditional medicine, Mustard baths restored the circulation after feet had 'lost all feeling.'

Chilblains are treated with heparin and salicilates -vasodilator and mild counter-irritant.

Some treatments for leg ulcers are similar.

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