Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pain Threshold

I was thinking of something last night, when my small, unassuming massage therapist was digging her fingers into the knot in my calf so hard I was seeing stars:

Do marathon runners have a higher pain tolerance?

There is nothing easy about running marathons, and I will even go as far as saying very little of it feels what you would physically call "good." Of course I'm not saying every run is painful and awful, but after a 20 mile run I've never thought how my legs felt better afterwards, as compared to before I ran. But wait! The "runners high!" you say? The runners high is mental and I'm not talking about that. Or should I? I guess thinking about it, the way our body processes pain is ALL mental, isn't it?

Well, I know for me, the answer to the above question is a definite yes. I have tattoos, (though my last one was so painful I swore that was the last one I'd get) I'm obviously not afraid of needles, and I kind of like getting blood drawn at the doctors. Okay, so maybe I am just a weirdo. A weirdo who tolerates pain better than most? Are all marathon runners super pain enduring weirdos?!

Or maybe, the answer could be as simple as this: We love pain a little more than everyone else.


  1. Well - though I say I don't seek pain, I've always tended to do more of what others consider painful. There was that one time when my hip was kind of hurting but I ignored it cause it wasn't that bad and continued doing what I was doing (a martial arts exercise). Next thing I knew, I'd passed out because my hip had popped out the socket.

    And then there was that time when it took me a week to go to the ER about a fractured eye socket because I thought the pain wasn't that bad and it didn't seem like a big deal (I thought it was just a black eye.)

    These days I try to be more careful and try not to block out pain too much.

  2. I agree!! I definitely think we take some weird pleasure from (certain types of) pain. So we probably overall have a higher pain tolerance.

    (ps. comment success?)

  3. Nice thought provoking question. Put me in the NO column!

    I recently threw out my back and had intense pain for several days. I didn't tolerate the pain well, and didn't like it, for sure. I didn't seek medical attention or medication because doing so would have required leaving my house and thus more pain! So tolerating that pain (poorly) was an effort to avoid even more pain.

    I'd be willing to bet that my wife, who has delivered two babies without pain medication, has a higher tolerance for pain than I do. She also possesses a mental intensity/toughness that I don't have. A runner she is not.

    As marathon runners, our bodies are adapted for endurance, and to keep going when the mind wants to stop. Similarly, your legs feel good after a 20 mile run because your muscles have been trained to be stronger. What you've gained is strength and endurance. I don't think it should be confused with pain tolerance.

    The real question is, what is a good test or measurement for pain tolerance? My vote is for having a cavity filled at the dentist with no novacaine. Then we can tell real pain tolerance! ;)