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High pain tolerance – maybe you have it, maybe you don’t. When an individual experiences pain, what’s really happening is their nerves are communicating with the brain via the spinal cord by sending warning messages which the brain instantly translates into pain. This causes internal reflexes to kick in.
Have you ever touched a hot stove before, not knowing it was on? Everybody has. The instant reflex to pull your hand away without giving it a single thought is the brain’s response to such warnings. How quickly your brain responds to the offending heat differs based on either a low or high tolerance to pain.
Why Do Some People Have a High Pain Tolerance?
To understand pain, it’s important to understand the difference between your pain threshold and your pain tolerance. These are two different things and should be treated as such. Pain tolerance references the amount of pain an individual is capable of handling, while a person’s pain threshold is defined as the limit right before an individual starts to recognize pain.
Everyone experiences pain, but not everybody’s experience is the same. There is no tool that measures pain because it is a completely subjective feeling. Surely, you’ve seen more than one person get stung by a bee. The pain they exhibit has nothing to do with one bee’s ability to sting harder than the other, it’s all about the way this pain is perceived by the individual.
Both threshold and tolerance for pain vary amongst individuals and depends solely on the communication between your brain and nerves. This leads to an entire spectrum ranging from high pain tolerance to low pain tolerance. Many factors are observed that play a part in determining a person’s current pain threshold.
What Factors Attribute to Different Pain Thresholds?
- Chronic illness
- Mental illness
- Social withdrawal
- Past experience
The Breakdown: Factors Associated with High Pain Tolerance
Many components have a significant outcome on the brain’s ability to communicate with the human body. The attributing factors that play such an important role include genetics, age, sex, mental/physical illness, stress, past experience, and expectations.
A person’s genetic makeup is one factor that determines the way they perceive and respond to pain, as does a person’s age and sex. Senior citizens are inclined to have a lower threshold for pain than most other age groups. Likewise, women have a lower threshold for pain than men and studies have shown this pain is experienced for a longer period of time.
A woman’s menstrual cycle is also known to have an impact on the pain she perceives. While males experience a high pain tolerance, research has shown this threshold is much higher when in the company of other men. This finding supports the well-known theory that males refrain from appearing weak in the presence of other males.
Illnesses also play a role in perceived pain as well. Those who endure chronic illnesses over a significant amount of time are thought to have developed a higher pain tolerance than those without chronic problems. When a person must endure pain over a significant course of time that is recurring, this tends to increase pain tolerance. In addition, people suffering from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety as well as stress tend to explain their pain as more severe, indicating a lower threshold for pain.
Can You Improve Your Pain Tolerance?
Yes, it is possible to improve your tolerance for pain over time. The key to elevating your pain threshold is through one or more cognitive or behavioral techniques. These methods will significantly help you adapt to heightened levels of pain over time when practiced regularly.
While there is no test to measure pain with an exact science, a useful way to measure your individual pain threshold can be done with ice cold water. By submerging a limb in extremely cold water you will find your pain threshold by the amount of time you can willingly leave that limb submerged. Those with a high tolerance for pain can withstand the icy effects of this nearly freezing water far longer than individuals with a low threshold for pain.
Ways to Improve Pain Tolerance
- Breathing techniques
- Aerobic exercises (of increasing difficulty)
- Positive self-talk
The techniques above have been clinically proven to diminish the effects of pain; both chronic and acute. A woman is told to breathe deeply in repetition during the physically hardest time in her life – childbirth. Breathing exercises can be applied in an attempt to lessen other types of pain as well. While large, deep breaths are generally ideal, some individuals actually benefit from shallow breathing in a constant and repetitious motion.
Meditating is a mental exercise that focuses on breathing repetition and is a time to reflect on the past. It is also a successful technique used to decrease pain. Further benefits include a decrease in anxiety, more self-control, and a healthier immune system.
A widespread opinion on meditation is that it is an effective way to deal with chronic pain. Studies have shown that as little as four, 20-minute meditation sessions showed a decrease in the participant’s perceived pain.
Positive self-talk has been known to lessen the feeling of pain, although this technique applies only to acute pain. This technique focuses on your relationship with pain itself. When you change your thoughts, it has a minimizing effect on the pain experienced.
Aerobic exercise has the capability to increase your threshold for pain. Long and strenuous workouts are tough, and healthy repetition along with a steady increase in intensity can lead to a higher threshold.
Not all pain is considered bad, for instance, the pain you feel after working out. Although we all know and hate this stiff form of body pain, the feeling is good as it speaks to the amount of work you have done, and what you have accomplished physically.
It’s important to note that repeated exposure to physical pains such as burns or blows to the body do not at all help to increase pain tolerance. Such trauma to a part of the body is likely to have the opposite effect if the area is red or sore.
When Athletes Push Too Far
Good athletes possess the ability to push their own limits. While this is expected and necessary to stay relevant, pushing yourself too hard can lead to unsatisfying outcomes such as injury and even death. Within the sports arena, pain is often associated with pride. This trait is at times admired, but can quickly spiral out of control if there is an underlying health problem present as it could manifest during this time of pushing harder than physically capable.
The Pros and Cons of a High Pain Tolerance
Although pain hurts, it is a good thing. Feeling pain is our body’s way of telling our brain that something is wrong, and that should not be ignored. Maintaining a state of health means catching early signs when something is not right. People with a high pain tolerance can easily overlook a scratch that can turn to an infection, which can lead to serious complications.
- Pain-free experience when accidents occur
- The ability to lead a pain-free life
- Enables a more intense aerobic workout
- Early signs of underlying diseases are often overlooked
- Overexertion is common and can lead to serious problems
The obvious advantage to a high pain tolerance is just that: you can tolerate pain, and in many cases, feel none. This helps immensely in cases of physical pain such as breaking a limb, or something less severe like a skinned knee. But ask yourself, is the ability to not feel pain healthy? The answer is no because in most instances, a lack of pain can quickly turn into missed messages the body needs to deliver to the brain.
It is an interesting concept that no two people experience the same pain. No two individuals have the same pain threshold, nor do they have the exact pain tolerance. The absence of any quantitative measurement system for pain makes it a very interesting subject for ongoing research.
Another interesting fact about pain is that a person’s threshold for pain can rise or fall depending upon a variety of different factors. Additionally, ways to cope with chronic pain and heighten your threshold include many cognitive and behavioral techniques such as repeated breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, positive self-talk, and aerobic exercise. These different individual exercises are all about realizing your inner voice and the way you interpret physical pain.
The obvious advantage of high pain tolerance is just that – the absence of pain. Regardless of how wonderful this superhero-type quality may sound appealing, a lack of pain can have startling side effects that can be lasting. Cuts lead to infections, burns go unnoticed, and underlying conditions which otherwise may present alarming symptoms are likely to go undetected by those with a high threshold for pain. It is the ability to listen to one’s body that enables individuals to take preventative measures. We hope this article has shed some light on the and significance of pain tolerance.