Simple distraction techniques such as talking to a nurse, watching a DVD or using stress balls can help patients relax during a surgery and reduce their pain, a new study has found.

The research from the University of Surrey in UK analysed 398 patients, splitting them into four groups. 

The first group was played music during their surgery, while the second was offered a choice of DVD to watch from a wall-mounted monitor.

In the third group, a dedicated nurse was positioned next to the patient’s head to interact with them throughout the procedure. 

The nurse was instructed not to touch the patient’s hand during surgery, but to try and engage them in conversation. 

In the fourth group, two palm-sized stress balls were given to participants once they were comfortably in place on the operating table. 

They were instructed to squeeze these whenever they were feeling anxious or if they anticipated or experienced any uncomfortable sensations. 

Anxiety and pain levels were measured through a short questionnaire filled in immediately after the operation. 

The group that watched a DVD showed 25 per cent less anxiety than those who received treatment as usual (but no differences for pain). 

The group that interacted with a nurse showed 30 per cent less anxiety and 16 per cent less pain than those who received treatment as usual. 

Those who used stress balls showed 18 per cent less anxiety and 22 per cent less pain than those who received treatment as usual. 

Music did not have any effect on anxiety or pain, researchers found. 

This is the first study to examine the effect of simple distraction techniques on patients undergoing varicose vein surgery. 

The team of researchers focused on this type of surgery as it is usually done with the patient awake, using a local anaesthetic. 

In addition, during this surgery, patients have previously experienced a burning sensation and have reported unfamiliar smells, sounds and feelings. 

As they are awake throughout, they have also reported overhearing conversations between the surgeon and nurse, containing upsetting details about the surgery. 

Although the procedure is highly effective and safe, patients often experience anxiety, as they are fully aware of everything that is happening.

 "Undergoing conscious surgery can be a stressful experience for patients," said study author Professor Jane Ogden from Surrey’s School of Psychology. 

"Finding ways of making them feel more comfortable is really important. The use of simple distraction techniques can significantly improve patient experience," said Ogden.

 The study was published in the European Journal of Pain.