Desensitisation as a way to reduce painful sensation


A painful area can become more sensitive(hypersensitivity) with time and the area can become bigger and be more painful.  Touching, stroking and pressing the area or the surrounding areas can become painful; at times even the contact of the clothes on the skin can be painful.  For example, someone who had ankle pain and hypersensitivity to the area, would find socks and shoes painful to wear, and would choose footwear that does not cover the sensitive area (e.g. slippers and sandals).

What treatment can be helpful?

Desensitization is a treatment to slowly reduce the hypersensitivity of the affected area.

How does desensitization work?

A desensitization program is designed to provide regular and slowly increased stimulation to the affected area for short periods of time, through the day.

  1. These small bursts of stimulation shower the brain with sensory input.
  2. The same stimulation is done on the non-painful side.  This helps the brain to compare the painful and non painful sides.
  3. The brain would gradually reduce the pain with the stimulations.
  4. Gradually, the hypersensitivity is reduced and becomes about the same to the remaining area.

What does a desensitization program consist of?

Desensitization programs progress gradually from stimulation that produce the least painful response to the most painful. The course may take several days to several weeks, depending on the level of hypersensitivity.

What is used to desensitize an area?

Desensitization involves application of specific stimuli to the hypersensitive area. These stimuli are things that the body is routinely exposed to and do not elicit a painful response when presented to non-affected areas of the body. Stimuli may consist of :  

  1. heat or cold,
  2. textures/fabrics (cotton, terry cloth, wool, polyester, velvet, Styrofoam, bean, sand)
  3. light or deep pressure 
  4. vibration (mini-massager)

How do I begin a desensitization program?

Choose the particular stimuli that provoke the painful response. For example use silk or cotton for light touch.

  1. Stroke the unaffected area with silk and remember the feelings of the stimuli.
  2. Stroke the affected area with silk while recalling the feelings of unaffected area and try to register the normal feelings on the affected area for 15 minutes.
  3. Slight discomfort or pain is allowed
  4. Progress to a rougher material and repeat the process.