Ouch! Who Really Has a Higher Pain Tolerance?

Did you know there was such a thing as the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine? Well, there seems to be a journal for everything these days, especially in the health field, and I recently came across some studies that I found pretty cool. I’ll try to relate them in non-techie-speak here…Why? Because I think these studies were cool. Why were they cool? Because I’m a fitness junkie. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Cool Studies

Anyway, one of the cool studies I found suggested that men have a higher pain tolerance, and a higher pain threshold, than women. Being a humanoid of the female persuasion, I was intrigued at this one, and inquiring minds want to know…

pain toleranceSo they found that men had a higher pain tolerance? That is, men can go longer before they actually feel pain, and not only that, they can stand a greater level of pain before they run crying out of the room? I guess I can buy that. I don’t know who did these studies, but to me, this is debatable in some instances (no offense to all my guy friends out there). Let me tell you about the study.

Participants were paid money to place their hand in ice water, and the longer they kept their hand submerged, the more money they could earn. Ok, so the men did hold their hands down longer, but I wonder if that speaks more to the desire for the money being stronger between the two sexes, although I guess that would be a topic for a different study. The researchers concluded that it was the men’s “machismo” or masculine role, that made them more tolerant, versus the females who have been conditioned to be more “feminine” and to voice their feelings.

Another study, published in Elsevier.com, suggested athletes experience pain differently than non-athletes. Researchers looked at fifteen different studies that were done worldwide and came to the conclusion that athletes had a consistently higher pain tolerance (the ladies, too!) than non active, or even “normally active”, adults. They also figured out that the degree of pain the subjects could withstand depended on what type of athlete they were (i.e. endurance sports, game sports, strength sports), with endurance sports being the highest.

Pain Tolerance vs. Pain Threshold

Now, just to differentiate, there is a difference between pain tolerance (the amount of pain we can stand) and pain threshold (the point at which we feel the pain in the first place). In the study with the athletes, they definitely found that regular exercise was associated with a higher pain tolerance; however, the pain threshold findings were different depending on who they asked. Soooo…. and this is what’s really cool… this means we can actually moderate our own pain tolerance by the amount of physical activity we do! Tell yourself THAT the next time you’re fighting with your inner voice while running a mile or two on the treadmill.

Going back to the “hand in the ice water” study, they added in another dimension, peer support. When they had the participants place their hands in the ice water with someone to support them standing right by their side, they found that the subjects reported less pain than those who did not have the support. AND, this was regardless if the “support person” was a friend or a stranger. How cool is that? I guess God really did intend us to be social creatures.

So what does this have to do with you and me? Well, you’ve heard the expression, NO PAIN, NO GAIN, right? Well, maybe now that you know you are capable of moderating/regulating your own personal pain threshold, you will have MORE gain, and LESS pain, and you’ll be able to run that last lap, bench press one more rep, or even do more than you ever thought you could accomplish before!

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