Does Chronic Pain Increase Pain Tolerance: The Painful Findings

Chronic pain affects 20% of the United States population. When it comes to high-impact chronic pain – meaning chronic pain that limits at least one major life activity – the number is 8%. This can obviously be a huge public health problem.

Now, when it comes to chronic pain a lot is discussed on the actual increase of pain tolerance that some people believe to have acquired after the appearance of such condition. Still, that’s not necessarily the truth.

First of all, there’s a difference between pain tolerance and a pain threshold. Once you get that out of the way you may ask yourself, does chronic pain increase pain tolerance? The answer is yes. According to many studies, the data leads to the conclusion that chronic pain does increase pain tolerance.

Now, there are other factors that determine your pain tolerance besides your chronic pain. For example, genetics play a big role when it comes to it according to the latest researches on the topic.

The main problem to understand more about this subject is that often times the pain is somewhat subjective. Not everyone will feel the same amount of pain caused by the same disease, for instance. So, how do you tell that one person resists more than the other if you’re not sure whether or not they’re feeling the same thing?

Also, does sex play any role in it? Are women more resistant to pain than men? You can find out about that below.

The point is that the subject is hard to have a complete understanding of it. Still, there’s a lot of progress made on the field every year. The importance of understanding pain tolerance is that it can help find solutions to enhance an individual’s quality of life. Especially of those that suffer from high-impact chronic pain.

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Pain Tolerance vs. Pain Threshold

So, as mentioned above, pain tolerance and pain threshold are the starting point from where you have to begin to understand the subject.

Many people refer to one when they actually want to talk about the other. So, pain tolerance is how much you can continue to experience pain without collapsing. The higher your tolerance, the more you can feel pain and still continue to be able to function.

Now, when it comes to your pain threshold, it’s about when you start to experience pain. For example, how much pressure does it take on your fingers for you to start experiencing pain? That’s your pain threshold. How much stimuli it takes for your body to start experiencing pain.

So, recent studies demonstrate that chronic pain does have a major role when it comes to increasing your pain tolerance. Now, it’s time to look at other factors that might increase it as well.

Type Of Disease

There are two main types of illness that increase your pain tolerance over time; fibromyalgia and migraine. Patients with those chronic conditions presented a difference in their pain tolerance when compared to other individuals who don’t have any of those conditions.

Now, there are other kinds of illness such as chronic back pain that can increase your pain tolerance. The point is that the brain adapts to a new condition. In this case, experiencing different levels of pain every day due to a malady.

Still, it is not every illness that will increase pain tolerance by a considerable amount. Doctors use an instrument called dolorimeter to assess an individual’s pain tolerance and threshold.

What it’s clear most of the time, it’s that some ailments such as chronic diseases that don’t cause intense pain, don’t affect your pain tolerance as much. This means that it’s not every chronic disease that will increase your pain tolerance.

Genetics And Age

As mentioned earlier, genetics do play a large role when it comes to pain tolerance. So, it’s not just about chronic diseases. You may have already a high pain tolerance even before the symptoms manifest.

Your genetics not only influence how you perceive pain but also how your body reacts to pain medications. This leads to the conclusion that genetics play an important role when it comes to your whole relationship with pain.

Now, about age, elderly individuals have a higher pain threshold. Researchers don’t know why yet. More research is needed on the topic. Still, there are few guesses such as the fact that maybe their sensors aren’t as sharp anymore. Every time you experience pain is that part of your body signaling to your brain through your spinal cord.

It can also be that elderly individuals have more resistance due to longer experience feeling pain. This is all speculation and inconclusive. The fact that remains is that age does play a role in your pain tolerance and threshold.


There isn’t a conclusive study or any research that points out to any possible answer, but females reportedly have a higher pain tolerance than males.

In the last century, some people thought that it was due to females giving birth, which doesn’t make sense because the same tolerance is found in individuals that never went into labor.

There was also another theory that it had to do with the fact that females experience pain every month, especially menstrual cramps. This is also inconclusive because the pain tolerance is found in individuals that didn’t go through puberty yet.

What remains is a lot of question and thus far no answer. Maybe the reason is biological or maybe evolutionary. The point is that no one really knows.

The important thing is that women do have a higher pain tolerance, in general. This, as your genetics, is something completely out of your control, but still relevant when it comes to understanding pain tolerance.


Your perspective is everything in life. The proof is that your mood may alter how much pain you can tolerate. Depending on how you’re feeling, your pain tolerance may increase. For example, if you’re confident your pain tolerance increases.

Now, if you’re going through depression or panic syndrome, your pain tolerance decreases. Not only that but your immune system takes a hit as well.

You don’t even need to be clinically depressed to have your pain tolerance to decrease. Even just being sad or stressed can have similar effects on your body.

The conclusion is that your mood does affect your pain tolerance. That’s why patients with chronic pain are encouraged to socialize and take on hobbies. Chronic pain does increase your chances to develop depression, for instance.

So, if you have chronic pain, make sure to keep your mood in check. Go out more and make an effort to socialize. Find a hobby or something that helps influence your mood on a day to day basis.

Physical Exercise

Depending on the chronic illness, certain physical exercises may be out of the question, but there are plenty of other that one can do. Swimming is usually a very democratic activity that allows nearly everyone to experience.

Physical exercise does also help increase pain tolerance. Now, when it comes to that, there are two ways to look at things.

First, normal people. Everyone that practices physical exercise every day does increase their pain tolerance. The constant release of hormones like endorphin and all the chemical reaction happening inside the body makes one more pain tolerant.

Second, athletes. Professional athletes live with pain every single day. Many athletes report having experienced pain every day of their professional career. Having a lifestyle like this one for many years does increase one’s pain tolerance.

So, physical exercise does increase pain tolerance with time, but it’s not as influent as genetics or sex. Still, it does play a role in not only increasing pain tolerance but even pain threshold.

Different People = Different Perceptions

Okay, a lot was said about pain tolerance. Still, there’s one factor that trumps all. Every person is different. Even though there is the dolorimeter that helps measure the pain tolerance of an individual, you still have to take into consideration that everyone is different.

This means that the way one perceives pain changes from person to person. This makes a little more difficult to get to a common denominator. Now, what researchers do is get to an average in order to be able to interpret the data.

The conclusion is that chronic pain does increase pain tolerance. Still, there are other factors, especially the ones mentioned above, that influence how much pain an individual can tolerate.

Now, even though the factors that determine pain tolerance are known, scientists have no clue on how to purposefully increase one’s pain tolerance or threshold.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, chronic pain does increase pain tolerance. Also, there’s a big difference between pain tolerance and pain threshold.

Not feeling pain under circumstances that most people would mean that you have a high pain threshold and that has no connection to pain tolerance. You can’t tolerate the pain that you’re not even experiencing.

Now, if you’re able to function in conditions of intense chronic pain that has to do with pain tolerance. This is an important topic because it may advance studies that will be able to provide a better quality of life to people with chronic diseases.

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