Feel like a wuss when it comes to tolerating pain? Turns out you can up your threshold with a few simple mind tricks.
By Camille Noe Pagan, Women’s Health
Childbirth. Menstrual cramps. Migraines. If you were born with XX chromosomes, you’re probably well acquainted with all kinds of discomfort. Women are more likely to suffer chronic pain than men are, thanks in part to certain female-centric conditions (think: endometriosis, fibromyalgia). But new research shows that pain can be a mental game, and that you can up your tolerance by retraining your brain.
A World of Hurt
When you stub your toe or sprain your wrist, the millions of nerves in your skin and tissues register the sensation and carry it to your brain for decoding. Your mind gets the message and immediately shoots back a “danger!” signal in the form of a sharp ache. All of this happens in a matter of milliseconds and sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, which can cause rapid heartbeat, sweating, hyper-breathing, and lightning-speed reflexes (the reason you can whip your hand away from a hot stove), says Teresa D. Long, M.D., director of the Persistent Pain Management clinic at the University of Kansas Hospital.
How much you wince (or wail!) over that stubbed toe comes down, in part, to your parents’ ability to handle hurt, since one aspect of pain tolerance is genetic. (Researchers are still working out the particulars, but studies show that the gene that gives people red hair can also spell an increased sensitivity to pain.) Estrogen fluctuations also might play a role in magnifying aches, says family physician Rob Danoff, D.O., of the American Osteopathic Association.
“Boys and girls have similar pain detection until puberty,” he explains. “After that, the perception of pain seems to be more intense for women when estrogen levels drop, like right before menstruation.”