What is an Anodyne?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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An anodyne is something with the capability or relieving pain, stress, or emotional distress. This term was primarily used in medicine prior to the 20th century, and was replaced with more accurate descriptors for certain types of anodyne medications and activities. It can still be seen in use among members of the lay community and is sometimes referenced in scientific research, especially research on alternatives to pharmaceutical pain management.

In terms of medications, an anodyne can be topical or designed for ingestion or injection. The substance may inhibit the transmission of pain signals, interrupt processing of such signals in the brain, or numb sensation altogether in a given area of the body. Anodyne medications include things like analgesics, ranging from ingestible opiates to topical creams designed to numb cuts and bruises. Some of these medications are considered controlled substances, as they can be dangerous.

Other things can act as anodynes. Some people experience pain relief from activities like meditation, biofeedback therapy, acupuncture, and exercise like yoga. Studies conducted on how the body responds during such activities are used to develop pain management plans with less of a reliance on medications, including schemes for managing pain without the use of any medications at all. Activities may be used to help wean patients from medications by creating alternative methods for pain management while tapering doses down.


People may also find that distraction acts as an anodyne. Listening to music, reading, or focusing on works of art and creative tasks like knitting can sometimes alleviate stress and suppress the experience of pain. These techniques may be used for pain management in some settings, often by being incorporated into a larger plan for pain management. Distractions work for varying degrees depending on the location and type of pain and the patient's history.

Researching things with a known anodyne effect is a topic of interest in the medical community. The understanding of pain and emotional distress is incomplete; while researchers have documented the effects of these things on the body, it is harder to understand how they work, and how to combat them. Looking at how people respond to medications, activities, and other techniques to alleviate pain provides information useful in the management of pain in a variety of settings. These techniques are applied everywhere from helping patients prepare for postoperative pain to assisting people in emotionally distressed states so they can calm down and focus.


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