Pain Tolerance


Me :  "I have a high pain tolerance" = "I am strong"
Reality : "I have a high pain tolerance"  =  "I ignore sensory input well"


Brene Brown shares from her social science research that humans are incapable of numbing individual or families of emotions - with our emotional life, it's all or nothing. When we numb anger, we numb excitement. When we numb grief, we numb joy. When we numb anxiety, we numb curiosity.

As it is with our brains such as it is with our bodies - we cannot numb selectively.

It's one thing to accept pain and another tolerate it. Accepting pain is blissful: any athlete can tell you about the "high" associated with using more muscles and greater lung capacity that comes with their chosen activity. You will never hear a runner moving uphill complain about burning quads (until recovering on the couch later) - that is part of the activity.

Receiving sensory feedback from different strengthening systems in your body is part of the joy of HAVING a body. This is pain, or rather, strain, working IN UNISON with brain and body. It is joyful to encompass this strain into one's awareness; it's easy to accept (especially because of the endorphins that come with it).

To tolerate pain is something far more deleterious and traumatic.

Suppose, if on that same run, going up the same hill, that same thigh-blasting athlete notices a pain in their right knee with every step. That is their sensory-motor cortex saying "Warning! Something is not right!!". Yet as athletes we are so used to ignoring pain signals that most of the time we blast through it.

Which might be fine, except we do that EVERY time. For weeks, months, or years before finally what started as our nervous system figuratively tapping on our shoulder turns into a full blown fire-alarm inside our bodies (with inflammation and joint-wear to match).

Pain tolerance is a purposeful DISCONNECTION between brain and body that leads to frustration and injury.

It's so praised in our current fitness culture of do more, work harder, go faster, go deeper (OK stop and laugh at that with my 10 year old self - ha! - moving on) to push through pain.

There is a difference between the discomfort of a difficult physical task and our sensory nervous system sending an important message about the functionality of our bodies to our brain!! The more we chose to push through true pain the greater our risk of injury.



If we numb pain we numb pleasure. Let's turn on our proprioception (body awareness) so that we can enjoy the comfortable sensations of our modern lives and better ourselves by responding appropriately to our environment, even when our ego doesn't like it.

Let's not become so desensitized to the red flags within our own body-minds that we "tolerate" (aka "ignore") a message coming straight from the authoritative source. 

And please, let's stop walking around like a bunch of beef-heads talking about how high our pain tolerance is. It's all subjective anyway :)

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