Recently I learned two great tricks that make working with a ticklish patient much easier from a massage therapist friend. I liked them so much that I had to share.
Although tickling is often perceived by the giver as fun, it is often uncomfortable, tiring or nauseating for the ticklish recipient. Tickling occurs when unmyelinated nerve fibers in the skin, the same nerves that react to pain, are stimulated, which activates a part of our brain that controls instinctive reactions – such as fight or flight - which is why someone being tickled may accidentally lash out at the person who is tickling them.
Our most ticklish zones are also our weakest spots, such as the stomach and neck, and evolutionary biologists believe that we laugh when these areas are touched as a defense mechanism to show that we are not a threat and are trying to show submissiveness.
So now that you know way too much about tickling and it’s frustrations, here are my tricks to minimize tickling:
1. It turns out we really can’t self tickle.
We can use this handy evolutionary process to prevent tickling during an ultrasound by having the patient place their hand on top of ours as we scan the ticklish area. Their brain will perceive that it’s just their own hand causing the stimulation and their reaction will be much less, or they may not even react at all.
2. Using mental distraction: It’s really all in the mind.
Although I don’t run into really ticklish patients very often, I see enough of them that it’s been a relief to have a couple of methods to use to help make the scan go easier. We usually end up sharing a laugh together then I explain that laughter is really disruptive to the imaging process so I’m going to have them try a distraction method while I finish the scan. It almost always works and both me and patient are much relieved.