Written by Jacquelyn Cafasso
What is pain tolerance?
Pain comes in many forms, whether it’s from a burn, joint ache, or throbbing headache. Your pain tolerance refers to the maximum amount of pain you can handle. This is different from your pain threshold.
Your pain threshold is the minimum point at which something, such as pressure or heat, causes you pain. For example, someone with a lower pain threshold might start feeling pain when only minimal pressure is applied to part of their body.
Pain tolerance and threshold varies from person to person. They both depend on complex interactions between your nerves and brain.
Read on to learn more about why some people have a higher pain tolerance and whether it’s possible to increase your own pain tolerance.
Feeling pain is an important experience. It can alert you to a potential illness or injury that needs to be addressed.
When you feel pain, nearby nerves send signals to your brain through your spinal cord. Your brain interprets this signal as a sign of pain, which can set off protective reflexes. For example, when you touch something very hot, your brain receives signals indicating pain. This in turn can make you quickly pull your hand away without even thinking.
Many things can influence the complex system of communication between your brain and body. These include:
- Genetics. ResearchTrusted Source suggests that your genes can affect how you perceive pain. Your genetics may also influence how you respond to pain medications.
- Age. Elderly individuals may have a higher pain threshold. More research is needed to understand why.
- Sex. For unknown reasons, females reportTrusted Source longer-lasting and more severe pain levels than males do.
- Chronic illness. Over time, a chronic illness, such as migraines or fibromyalgia, can change your pain tolerance.
- Mental illness. Pain is more often reported in people with depression or panic disorder.
- Stress. Being under a lot of stress can make pain feel more severe.
- Social isolation. Social isolation may add to the experience of pain and decrease your pain tolerance.
- Past experience. Your previous experiences of pain can influence your pain tolerance. For example, people regularly exposed to extreme temperatures may have a higher pain tolerance than others. However, people who’ve had a bad experience at the dentist can have a strong pain response to even minor procedures at future visits.
- Expectations. Your upbringing and learned coping strategies can affect how you think you should feel or react to a painful experience.