Threshold and perception of pain: What they are and how they affect us?

For pain threshold means the minimum intensity of stimulation that causes pain sensation. It is not a constant, because it can vary within the subject itself (it depends on the body region, stimulus used, subjective and emotional factors) and also varies from one subject to another.

We differentiate threshold and perception because, as we have said, the fact that a stimulus is unpleasant or painful does not only depend on our pain threshold, but also on a series of subjective factors that modulate the perception of pain.

Pain is useful

This is something that sometimes happens to us: pain is useful for our day to day . Having altered sensitivity, or not perceiving pain, is a pathology. The acute pain has a biological function warns us when there is danger. It is an alarm signal.

Prevents tissue damage. That is why sometimes we feel very big pain (cut with a sheet of paper) but we see that there is no injury. The body warns to activate withdrawal maneuvers, precisely to avoid injury.

In case of discomfort or injury (for example, discomfort or a “pull” when exercising), the body warns through pain, the need to rest or change activity. Pain acts by modifying your behavior, to avoid further damage and allow time for tissues and structures to recover.

We must also bear in mind that sometimes there may be damage to the tissue and there may be no pain . For example, fractures of bones that go unnoticed, or complete breaks of ligaments of ankle or knee that do not generate pain. On these occasions you have to attend to other symptoms : difficulty moving or doing daily activities, swelling of the area, appearance of bruise or other signs …

The perception of pain varies

And it does so depending on the person, the moment, the situation … We do not always have the same perception of pain . If we are tired, sad, low energy … A stimulus can be painful (for example, hitting your foot when walking barefoot and hitting the bedside table, it seems unbearable pain …).

However, if we are euphoric, motivated, active … A much stronger stimulus may not cause pain . For example, athletes celebrate a victory by throwing themselves on top of each other, or by clapping each other with great joy, without major consequences.

This is not simply because of the states of mind, or depending on the person, but there are mechanisms at the level of the central and peripheral nervous system that modify the perception of pain.

To give an example, we can mention the case of endorphins, those substances that we know are produced by physical exercise, and that are partly responsible for the exercise helping to feel better and, in part, to improve the symptoms in various pathologies (osteoarthritis, lumbar pain …).

Our daily activity and way of life, as well as attitudes and thoughts, influence our perception of pain . A sedentary person with bad habits is less prepared to withstand efforts. That is why it may seem that it has “the lowest pain threshold”. This person will be more prone to suffer discomfort if you make efforts. You may even suffer discomfort to perform certain daily activities (long distance walking, going up and down stairs …).

However, an active person, used to make efforts, is less likely to suffer discomfort by doing daily activities. It is as if his “threshold of pain” was higher, although this is not quite so. Above all what happens is that your body (body and mind, so to speak) is more prepared to make efforts, and your alarm system (pain) is not activated so easily.

For all that information that can give pain (type of pain, area where it appears, intensity, duration …) is a very important element to consider. We should not underestimate the warnings of this alarm system, so the importance of not training if we suspect injury and apply measures to prevent frequent injuries.

The exercise is an agent that can help change for the better the perception of pain. This is one more reason to fight sedentary lifestyle.

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