Why athletes can tolerate more pain
German researchers who reviewed 15 studies involving more than 550 athletes and over 300 non-athletes found that active people perceive pain differently than those who are inactive and have a higher tolerance depending on what sport or activity they regularly undertake.
Previous studies on the topic have had mixed results. But the new findings could fuel further investigation into pain tolerance that could help non-athletes, the researchers said. "Our analysis reveals that pain perception differs in athletes compared to normally active people," said lead the research, Dr Jonas Tesarz at the University of Heidelberg.
"Studies in athletes offer the opportunity for an evaluation of the physical and psychological effects of regular activity on pain perception, which might foster the development of effective types of exercise for relief in pain patients," Dr Tesarz was quoted as saying by LiveScience.
Although the pain threshold – the the minimum level at which pain is perceived – didn`t differ between athletes and other adults, the review found that athletes had consistently higher pain tolerance. And the magnitude of pain that athletes could withstand varied by sport, the researchers said.
Athletes involved in game sports had a higher tolerance for pain than other athletes, but the results varied widely. Endurance athletes were more similar to each other in tolerance, suggesting that endurance athletes are more alike in their physical and psychological profiles, while athletes involved in game sports are more diverse.
"Further research is needed to clarify the exact relationship between physical activity and modifications in pain perception, and to identify the involved psychological factors and neurobiological processes," Tesarz said.
"However, the observation that pain perception is modifiable by physical activity provides promise for the use of non-invasive methods with few side effects for patients with chronic pain conditions." The study was published in the journal Pain.