Pain Tolerance

Kind of stemming from my other question about whether bacteria avoidance had anything to do with immunity.

I seem to have a pretty high pain tolerance compared to others i know. I have been using my hands in extreme work conditions over the past 10-12 years, getting burnt, and cut pretty much on a daily basis. I walk probably 10 miles a day, my feet seem to tolerate this no matter my footwear.

However, my father was a mechanic, he has some of the most calloused hands i have seen, yet they seem to be extremely sensitive to everything that happens to them.

And then some people’s world comes crashing down over a paper cut.

So my question is; is pain tolerance built up, or are people born with it?

There’s a difference between pain tolerance and pain sensitivity. Some people simply feel less pain from a given stimuli, while some are better than others at tolerating pain even though they feel it as intensely as anyone else. I’d nominate Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the strongest in the latter category and probably born with it.

See interview here.

Well mechanics are exposed to a lot of oil on the skin and get stuff like eczema on their hands so something like that could explain sensitivity in his hands. I have pretty good pain tolerance if I focus, when I was in high school some other guys and I would challenge each other over who could take the most pain and do different things like applying pressure with knives to the point of bleeding, burning out cigarettes on our hands, leaving my hands in a fire ant bed for a certain period of minutes. If I was able to focus, it’s like I was able to disassociate myself from my limb and just watch like it was happening to someone else, If someone cracked me on the head with a baseball bat I don’t know how much of that I could take. One thing I’ve wondered about is people who have like teeth that are in really bad shape, sometimes it looks like they are clearly in need of immediate dental work or they have an abcessed tooth or something, seems like that would be hard to ignore.

I think even relatively low grade chronic pain has a way of breaking a person down though, it might not be super bad but if it’s constant it can really wreak havoc.

When I was in college, I worked nights and weekends for an ambulance service and we had a contract with Anaheim Convention Center to do standby for certain events and I personally saw a bull rider dislocate his shoulder, wait while it was x-rayed and examined and then have the doctor pop it back (extremely painful) and then walk away. All without meds. Even the doctor was impressed.

For some people, “high tolerance to pain” is part of the job description.

I’m guessing that it is part built up and part born with it. Just a guess though.

About 20 years ago, I worked for a neurobiologist who was studying pain. I designed equipment that was designed to cause pain in various different but controlled ways (I guess this means that I can put that I designed torture equipment on my resume…). I worked on machines that tested heat and cold pain thresholds on small areas of your skin, and some things that would poke you with various tips and varying forces.

You can definitely build up a tolerance to pain. When I started playing around with the heat pain threshold, for example, I first said “ouch” around 42 deg C. After playing around with the machines for a while, that increased to about 45 deg C. All of the other researchers in the lab said the same thing. You could tell who had been around for a while because their pain tolerance had increased.

While you can definitely build up a tolerance to pain, I think some of it is what you are born with. People came into that lab with varying tolerances for pain. Some of it can be explained by varying experiences and how much tolerance they’ve built up over the years, but I’m not convinced that explains all of it.

I have a high tolerance for muscle and joint pain, pain form getting hit with things and hot and hot pain. I can do dental work with no Novocain for instance. Nerve pain seems to bother me more, years ago I had a pinched nerve in my neck that sent pains down my arm and I had trouble tolerating it, my sciatica also bothers me, headaches bother me. I have never used any kind of pain relief medicine, over the counter or otherwise except for headaches on a rare occasion.