What Is Pain Tolerance?
Pain is defined as an uncomfortable feeling in response to intense or damaging stimuli. An external stimulus like the pricking of skin, heat, or pressure is detected by the pain receptors. The pain receptors activate the nerve fibers nearby. The nerve fibers send signals through the spinal cord to the brainstem. From here, the signals are sent to the brain. This signal is interpreted as pain, and the brain sets off reflexes that can help stop or deal with the pain.
Pain can be a good thing. Pain alerts your brain and tells you that something is wrong. There is a potential illness or injury that needs to be taken care of.
The maximum amount of pain you can handle is termed pain tolerance. This is different from the pain threshold, which is the minimum point at which a stimulus like pressure or heat causes pain.
Pain can be acute or chronic. It can occur due to a specific injury or overall body aches. The level of pain you can tolerate depends on several biological and psychological factors. Pain tolerance or sensitivity varies from person to person.
Exercise and Pain Tolerance
Regular exercise has many benefits. It keeps you healthy, fit, and reduces pain. Research shows that exercise can help increase your pain tolerance also.
A study was done in 2014 to examine the effect of aerobic exercise training on pain sensitivity in healthy individuals. The results of the study show that moderate to high-intensity aerobic training increases ischemic pain tolerance in healthy individuals. The study focussed on ischemic pain, the burning pain you feel when your muscles don’t get enough oxygen, and pressure pain, the pain you feel when excess pressure is applied to a muscle. Other studies show that exercise increases pressure pain tolerance also.
How Does Genetics Influence Pain Sensitivity?
Several genes that affect the way you perceive different kinds of pain have been identified. Apart from other factors, your genes also influence how you respond to pain.
The COMT gene encodes an enzyme called catechol-O-methyltransferase. This enzyme breaks down catecholamines, fight or flight hormones. This gene influences the development of our personalities, identities, and dispositions. Variations in this gene are associated with stress, pain, and anxiety.
Non-Genetic Factors That Affect Pain Sensitivity
Age: Pain tolerance increases with age; as you experience more pain, your body gets used to it.
Stress: Stress can decrease your pain tolerance and make the pain feel more severe.
Chronic illness People with chronic illnesses like migraines tend to become more sensitive to pain.
Mental illness: People with depression or anxiety disorders have lesser pain tolerance.
Past experiences: Your past experiences influence how you perceive pain. For example, if you live in a cold climate for a very long time, you get used to the temperature conditions. This makes you less sensitive to extreme temperatures and increases your pain tolerance.
Expectations: This is a psychological thing. A person who expects more pain tends to feel more intense pain. Your coping strategies and thinking affect how you react to painful experiences.
How To Increase Your Pain Tolerance?
Exercise: Research shows that exercise is an effective way of increasing pain tolerance or decreasing pain sensitivity. Physical activities, especially aerobic exercises like cycling, can increase your pain tolerance. Pain tolerance increases as you work out consistently for longer periods of time.
Yoga: Studies show that people who regularly practice yoga have a higher pain tolerance. Yoga helps you relax, reduce stress, deal with depression and anxiety, and makes you more aware of your mind and body.
Vocalization: Vocalizing your feelings when you experience pain can help you tolerate it for longer. Studies show that people who say a simple ‘ow’ or curse while experiencing painfully cold water can withstand the pain for much longer. People who cursed seemed to have greater pain tolerance.
Biofeedback: This is a type of therapy that makes a person more aware of their body or mind and the response to stimuli like pain. The therapist will teach you techniques to control your response to pain. Mental imaging, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques are some of the methods used in this therapy.
- Pain is an uncomfortable feeling in response to intense or damaging stimuli. It alerts your brain and tells you that something is wrong.
- The maximum amount of pain you can handle is termed pain tolerance. This varies from person to person and is influenced by several biological and psychological factors.
- People with the GG genotype of SNP rs4680 found in the COMT gene have higher pain tolerance compared to people with the AA genotype. People with the AG genotype are found to have intermediate pain tolerance.
- Age, gender, stress, mental illnesses, chronic conditions, past experiences, and expectations influence the way you perceive pain and pain tolerance.
- Exercise, yoga, biofeedback therapy, and vocalizing your feelings can help you increase your pain tolerance.