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Individual Tolerance for Pain

Updated on April 27, 2018
Pamela99 profile image

I spent 22 years in the nursing profession. I enjoy writing, reading historical novels, gardening, and helping people live a healthier life.

Individual Pain Relief

People have different pain thresholds, and relief for pain is unique to each individual. There are two components to feeling pain. First, pain is a biochemical and neurological transmission due to an unpleasant stimulus, whether physical or emotional.

The first step in feeling pain is a biological response to painful stimuli, such as a pinprick, that signals the brain, and the second part is the brain’s perception of the pain. Are you going to shrug it off and continue on with whatever activity you were doing, or are you going to stop all activity and focus on the pain?

Miserable Headache

Source

Effects of Emotions on Pain

Your brain and emotions can actually moderate or intensify pain, partly based on past experiences or traumas. Pain tolerance can be influenced by depression or anxiety as it increases an individual’s sensitivity to pain. People who smoke or are obese report more pain. In addition, Americans are living longer; therefore, there are more people with arthritis and other chronic painful conditions.

More women report pain then men (27.1% to 24.4%); however, studies are still unclear as to whether woman or men actually tolerate pain better. There is the standing joke that if men had to have babies, we wouldn’t have any, but there is no proof that women actually tolerate pain better.

The Brain Interpreting Pain Messages

Other factors that may affect how you interpret pain messages reported by the Mayo Clinic are:

  • Emotional and psychological state
  • Memories of past pain experiences
  • Upbringing
  • Age and sex
  • Beliefs and values
  • Social and cultural influences
  • Attitude and expectations

The way you feel pain is influenced by psychological, cultural and biological factors. In some homes you are taught to “man up” or “grin and bear it”, while other homes may have a parent that is prone to complain about every little ache that arises. An athlete may have conditioned himself or herself to endure pain in order to reach their self-imposed goals for success.

Pain - Genetic and Biological Compoonents

There is a genetic component to pain tolerance, which involves an enzyme (COMT) that metabolizes the neurotransmitter dopamine. The stronger the COMT an individual has, t the more receptors that are freed from the dopamine, so endorphins bind to these receptor sites, which gives more pain relief.

Some biological factors may play a role in pain tolerance, such as spinal cord damage and chronic diseases. One example is diabetes, which can cause nerve damage. As an example, recent research reveals that one side of your body may experience pain differently than the other. Right-handed people in a study reported in the Neuroscience Letter tolerated more pain in their right hand than their left.

Furthermore, scientist have discovered that estrogen can act as a natural painkiller. This research study was only done on women, but they concluded that a woman with a higher estrogen level will have higher pain tolerance. One thing to remember is women have fluctuating estrogen levels throughout the month, therefore, the pain tolerance will fluctuate also. Testosterone has not been studied yet

The most common type of chronic pain reported in the U.S. is back pain and the most acute pain is musculoskeletal pain from sports injuries. More than 76 million people report pain, lasting more than 24 hours according to the American Pain Foundation.

Red Head

Source

Redheads Have a Lower Pain Tolerance

Some other genetic factors may influence pain tolerance, such as hair color. Redheads tend to have a mutation in a gene called melanocortin-1 receptor, which belongs to a group of receptors that include pain receptors in the brain.

This gene appears to influence sensitivity to pain and makes a redhead more sensitive to thermal pain, which may be due to a naturally occurring low Vitamin K level. In 2009, the Journal of the American Dental Association concluded that redheads required for anesthesia for dental procedures, as they are more sensitive to pain.

Treating Chronic Pain

While you can’t change your genetic receptors, there are some things you can do to lessen the effects of pain. Learning new coping mechanisms can have a big impact on the quality of your life. For instance, exercise can help you tolerate more pain.

Researchers are working with alternative remedies, such as relaxation techniques, biofeedback and teaching people to divert their mind from zeroing in on the pain.

Women who use breathing techniques during natural childbirth is a prime example. Mind over matter can work. So, meditation, distraction and a positive attitude are a few things that people can do to lessen pain.

Chronic pain, such as Fibromyalgia, arthritis, headaches or back problems, can interfere with your daily activities and relationships. Too frequently pain relief treatments are ineffective, which leads to frustration, decreased functioning, stress, isolation and worsening pain.

When this is the case, it would be wise to consider a pain rehabilitation program, which uses a team approach unique to the patient. The medical team is typically composed of physical therapist, occupational therapist, nurses, psychologists, social workers, dietitians and chaplains. Each case is unique and the team works to develop a unique plan of care for each individual and their family members.

Reactions Differ Between People

Another consideration is one person might have unbearable pain, stays quiet, and does not take medication, then goes on with his or her day. Another person may have the same pain, be under the same physical stress but is moaning, popping pain pills, cries and stays in bed.

You could make an argument that the first person may have conditioned themselves to suppress such manifestations of pain, or maybe their culture looks down on weakness. The conscious suppression of pain reaction involves the I-function, which is an aspect of the nervous system. This doesn’t include a genetic componet.

Keep Track of Pain

Source

Typical Pain Rehabilitation Program

These pain rehabilitation programs typically include:

  • An initial evaluation review of physical and psychological conditions, medications, work status and relationships.
  • Behavior therapies are taught to help restore physical activities.
  • Medication management is essential, as many patients end up addicted to opioids; which may worsen pain if used long term and decreases pain tolerance. The goal is to reduce or eliminate some medications or find alternatives.
  • Physical therapy is almost always essential as patients are typically deconditioned; often patients have gained weight, have lost strength and stamina, which makes activities of daily living difficult.
  • Stress management is taught utilizing relaxation techniques, such as meditation, biofeedback, and is sometimes utilized with counseling individually or in group therapy, which often includes the family. Acupuncture and hypnosis also may be offered.

Chronic Pain Management Guided Meditation

Summary

When your body is in pain you may be able to train yourself to react differently, thus lessening the perception of pain. It is possible to change your tolerance to pain, and if you are plagued with a chronic painful condition it is well worth the time to learn new coping mechanisms.

The copyright, renewed in 2018, for this article is owned by Pamela Oglesby. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

Comments

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  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    kellymom, I'm glad this hub was useful for you. Thank you for your comments.

  • kellymom1970 profile image

    kellymom1970 6 years ago

    Pamela99,I never know any of this. I learn something everyday.

  • Pamela99 profile image
    Author

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    KK Gals, Breathing is an effective tool to assist with pain relief. Thank you for your comments.

  • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

    Susan Hazelton 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Wonderful well written, informative article. It is so true that different people react differently to pain. I find if I breathe deeply and slowly it helps me with my pain. Up and awesome.

  • Pamela99 profile image
    Author

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    Hello, Thanks so much for your comments

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

    A very detailed and systematically written hub. Thank you. My laptop gave up and now having it got back I have got a job cathing up with it.

  • Pamela99 profile image
    Author

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    Martie, I've worked form many years as an RN in a variety of settings and I guess I will always be interesting in medical issues and I see a lot of inaccurate information on the internet. I like to make sure my information is accurate. Thanks for your comments.

  • MartieCoetser profile image

    Martie Coetser 6 years ago from South Africa

    I hate to be in pain. While experiencing pain I cry more for those who are permanently in pain as for myself. Fortunately I have a high pain tolerance, so my estrogene level must be high? (I wonder what this entails at my age? Hormones and chemicals in human bodies boggle my mind! If not in perfect balance, you have some kind of a problem.) Pamela, as always I am in awe. You are certainly one of the best writers of medical issues on the Internet. Short and sweet to the point and perfectly understandable by people with no formal training in the subject. Voted UP and bookmarked.

  • Pamela99 profile image
    Author

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    BPOP, Thanks so much for your comment.

  • breakfastpop profile image

    breakfastpop 6 years ago

    I like the idea of training yourself to cope with pain in a better way. Thanks, Pamela! Up useful, interesting and awesome.

  • Pamela99 profile image
    Author

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    Rebecca E., I couldn't find anything about pain related to hair color except for the redheads but as you know, research continues daily. Thanks for your comments.

  • Rebecca E. profile image

    Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

    well done, an informative and easy to understand explaination that we all need. The facts about red heads are interesting. Wondering about the rest of teh hair colour spectrum.

  • Pamela99 profile image
    Author

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    acaetnna, I'm glad you enjoyed the article and I always appreciate your comments.

    drbj, I think each person with chronic pain has to try different methods to find out what works for them. Thanks so much for your comments.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

    This is a very thorough examination, Pamela, of the various methods of achieving pain relief as well as the biological factors that may be causing chronic pain.

    Hypnosis, as you mentioned briefly, can be very effective in relieving pain but it may not work well for everyone. Very informative. Voted up.

  • acaetnna profile image

    acaetnna 6 years ago from Guildford

    You have some great articles and this one is equally brilliant. thank you for sharing this Pamela.

  • Pamela99 profile image
    Author

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    Quill, Thanks so much for your comments. God Bless and have a wonderful weekend.

  • profile image

    "Quill Again" 6 years ago

    Great read and thank you for all the work you have out into this... voted up as always.

    Blessings

  • Pamela99 profile image
    Author

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    anglnwu, I think when you have chronic pain you have to find some way to help deal with the pain. I appreciate your comments.

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 6 years ago

    Pain perception is interesting--some people have a higher threshold for pain while others don't. Someone told me that the way he deals with chronic pain is to realize that he has to live with it since there's notihng he can do, apart from taking lots of medication. He says that helps him cope with pain. Thanks for the information.

  • Pamela99 profile image
    Author

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    always exploring, Stretching helps me also and I exercise. I refuse to give into chronic pain as I want each day to be as good as possible. Thanks so much for your comments.

    FitnezzJim, Adrenalin is effective but I would rather have it flowing from excitement rather than anger. However, you are right it works. I appreciate the comments.

  • FitnezzJim profile image

    FitnezzJim 6 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

    Getting angry or getting the adrenalin flowing in some other way takes pain away.

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 6 years ago from Southern Illinois

    This is a very helpful Hub. I have chronic back pain, have had for years. I find that exercise and stretching is the best pain reducer for me. Cardisa's idea sounds like a winner. LOL Thank's again for a really informative Hub......

  • Pamela99 profile image
    Author

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    Cardisa, Sex and laughter are two things that will take your mind off of your pain, at least temporarily. Thanks for the comments.

    Prasetio, I'm glad you found the hub useful and I appreciate your comments as always.

    Mentalist Acer, I think stress management is the key to controlling pain and many diseases. I appreciate your comments.

    Cloverleaf, I'm glad you found the hub useful and thank you for your comments.

  • Cloverleaf profile image

    Cloverleaf 6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

    I didn't know that pain tolerance was partly genetic. This hub has been very informative and useful to me, thanks Pamela!

  • Mentalist acer profile image

    Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

    I'm glad you've included stress management into relation with coping with pain...very informative and important Pamela.;)

  • prasetio30 profile image

    prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

    Nice and valuable information from you. Thank you very much for always update your hub. I always impress with your talent in sharing useful information related with health. Well done, Pam. Vote up!

    Prasetio

  • Cardisa profile image

    Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

    You know when you are sexually aroused it temporarily sedates you? It has been proven....I even proved it myself.

  • Pamela99 profile image
    Author

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    SEO IT, Thank you so much for your comments.

  • SEO IT! profile image

    Karla Whitmore 6 years ago from Tucson, AZ

    Very interesting! I especially appreciate the part about red hair. I had no idea that being a redhead could mean a lower tolerance for pain, but that does explain the "oh come on, it doesn't hurt THAT much" I have heard before.

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