To peel slowly or just rip it off? Everyone has their opinions when it comes to taking off an adhesive bandage.

Maybe you’re one of the people that fall in the just rip it! camp, Or maybe you like to carefully pull it back, so you don’t accidentally wax off a strip of arm hair.

Pain Rating Scale

But is one way less painful than the other?

At least one study says yes, but with a pretty big asterisk. (yes*)

Published in 2009, this research found that taking off a bandage quickly was less painful than peeling it off slowly.

The researchers recruited 65 healthy undergrads with the promise of pizza. Which, let’s be real, is the best way to recruit undergrads.

They placed adhesive bandages on their upper arms, hands, and ankles, then removed them quickly and slowly by turns.

The pain was assessed using an 11-point scale, where zero meant no pain, and 10 was the worst pain imaginable by the person.

Same as the good old-fashioned pain scale you might see on the wall at the doctor’s office.

What they found was that when bandages were taken off slowly – over a 2-second period – pain scored 1.58 on average.

Quick removal only got a score of 0.92.

But if you look closer at the results of this study, you’ll see there’s a lot of variation.

For example, women’s pain score was significantly lower than men’s – 0.91 versus 1.64 respectively.

Also, for people with relatively little body hair, taking off the bandage slowly actually hurt more.

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More interestingly, though, the researchers found that the pain score was closely tied to participants’ preconceptions of what might be more painful.

In other words, what people believed would hurt more was reflected in their actual pain scores.

And therein lies the huge problem of studying pain.

How we perceive pain can be influenced by so many things like previous pain experiences, beliefs, culture, gender and body hair, apparently.

According to whyy.org the study even found that the time of day influenced how painful people found heat and cold.

The study had only male participants, but it found that morning was the least painful time for them.

Ironic, since getting out of bed is at least for me, somewhat painful.

Ultimately, because only you can feel your pain, it’s really hard for researchers to study it in an unbiased, scientific way.

For decades, the best way we had to go on is that 0 – 10 scale.

Which is a really simple way to tell someone how something as complex as pain feels.

It’s also very subjective.

What someone felt like a 3, might be an 8 to someone else.

And because we don’t have any good ways to measure someone’s pain, finding treatments for it that really work is even harder.

But things are getting better.

Scientists have begun using brain imaging to see how the brain lights up when people feel different pain sensations, meaning we’re making progress toward more quantitative measures of pain.

And that means we might finally be able to objectively figure out which hurts more: ripping the bandage off or peeling it away slowly.