Boys are tougher than girls. Is it true?

PainCase study 1:  Two snowballs of exactly the same size and mass are thrown with the same force. One directly hits my face, and the other hits my brother’s.

Do we both feel the same amount of pain? Who feels the most pain?  OR who is just being a plain drama queen?

People can greatly differ in their sensitivity to pain. Many studies show that women are more sensitive to pain than men, and people of different ethnic backgrounds can have dissimilarities in pain tolerance and sensitivity too.

Why are some people more sensitive to pain than others?

It has been pinned down to a combination of biological, psychological and social factors…

You may have heard of the placebo effect. But have you heard of the nocebo effect?

Placebos are ‘dummy’ pills, which contain no active ingredients but can cause a patient’s symptoms to be alleviated, since the individual believes in the medication. For instance, two sugar pills a day is better than one pill a day in removing gastric ulcers. Equally, a salt-water injection is better used to treat pain than a sugar pill – because it is felt to be a more dramatic intervention.

In contrast, the nocebo effect occurs when a patient experiences poor outcomes in response to an otherwise effective medical treatment, as a result of doubts and negative expectations about that medication. The nocebo effect can override all effects of a strong pain-relieving drug.

It’s all in the mind. Other studies have shown that peoples’ reactions to placebo treatments for pain can be affected by their personality traits. Research has found neurotics, that is, people who suffer from over-anxiety and emotional upset, to have a less effective reaction to pain-relieving treatment than individuals who are more agreeable in character. In addition, anger has been linked to a less effective opioid receptor system (the system that normally functions to relieve pain).

This suggests that by exercising willpower (see last post!), and managing anger, one could potentially control the way in which their body responds to pain.

Meditating minds

By meditating regularly we can alleviate physical pain as well as social pain and anxiety. It’s called Mindfulness Meditation, which trains the individual to fully focus on their present experience in a non-judgmental way. Researchers suggest that this method helps to stop chains of negative thoughts arising from a single initial distressing thought or emotion.

Focused attention is a mindfulness meditation shown to relieve physical pain symptoms. It teaches people to concentrate on their breathing and to desert distracting thoughts and feelings.

So when it comes to the science of agony, expectations do matter, as do character traits and a peaceful mind. It looks like when in pain, optimism is the way forward :-).

What about physical traits?

A redheaded phenomenon.

It turns out that even being a redhead can influence a person’s pain threshold.

Studies have shown that redheads are more resistant to the effects of local anaesthesia. For example, the pain-numbing drugs used during dental procedures. Incidentally, people with red hair have a larger tendency to experience anxiety about dental procedures, and are twice more likely to avoid going to the dentist than people with alternative hair colours.

A gene that is partially responsible for the redness of red hair may be key to this peculiarity. This is the MC1R gene, which is usually responsible for the production of the brown skin pigment melanin. MC1R also codes for a receptor that belongs to a family of pain receptors in the brain. An uncommon variant of this gene is found in redheads, which is thought to play a large part in producing red hair and fair skin. However, it is also found in small percentage of brunettes…

Investigations into people with the MC1R mutant (brunettes included) showed that these people are indeed more likely to experience dental care-related anxiety, as well as higher avoidance behaviour towards dental surgeries.


No pain, no cry?

There is a rare group of people who are born without the ability to sense pain, due to a genetic irregularity. Their condition is called Congenital Insensitivity to Pain (CIP). Although their other senses may be fully functional, they are able to walk through life ‘immune’ to perceiving physical pain. So, from toothaches to trapped fingers to fist fights, no feelings of anguish are evoked at all in these individuals. There is even an example of one lady with CIP who had a painless childbirth (!) (It was in the tabloids so it must be true?)

A life without physical pain may seem to be a gift, but those diagnosed with CIP lead more painful lives than one may think at first glance…

For example, a person may have a shard of glass stuck in their foot and not realise; individuals affected by CIP are commonly treated for numerous injuries. Additionally, babies with CIP face many dangers when experimenting in their environments. If they feel no pain, they cannot learn from their previous accidents, and are likely to continue in what could be potentially disastrous behaviours. Because of all these factors, people with this condition generally do not live past 30.

Pain 4 Pleasure

Tattooing has become a growing fad. People with several tattoos agree that it is addictive, but their reasons for this may vary. Many people who have tattoos describe having felt a rush, or a sense of release, whilst, or just after being tattooed. Some even say these sensations can lead to an increased motivation for getting more tattoos.  How could an intense pain like this cause such pleasure? One reasoning for this is that when the body is in extreme pain, pain-relieving proteins called endorphins are released, which bind to opioid receptors in the brain in order to suppress the pain. In addition to pain relief, endorphins can also cause a feeling of euphoria. The effects of endorphins can be powerful, and are also associated with the natural “runners high” felt during strenuous exercise.

Ever punched a wall to get high? Yes some people have!

(No, they haven’t really)Bam.

Breaking toes, sitting on drawing pins and crushing family jewels. They say ‘No pain, no gain’, but some Paralympic athletes have really taken this phrase to a new level. These agonising activities are in fact, well known to improve performance amongst Paralympic competitors with spinal injuries (punching walls is not included). The practice, now banned, is called “boosting”.

Most people experience an automatic increase in blood pressure and heart rate when they are
exercising vigorously. These mechanisms allow more oxygen to be delivered to highly active muscles and enable athletes to persevere during training.

However, many individuals with spinal cord injury no longer have this automated mechanism in place; they fatigue more quickly and have a lower level of endurance. Boosting has been used as a shortcut to increase blood pressure and allows athletes to train harder without tiring as quickly.

‘There have been times where I would specifically give my leg or my toe a couple of really good electric shocks” says Brad Zdanivsky, a 36-year-old Canadian quadriplegic climber who has experimented with boosting in the gym. 

“That would make my blood pressure jump up and I could do more weights and cycle harder – it is effective.”’

Boosting can be extremely dangerous though. The rapid surge in blood pressure, known as autonomic dysreflexia, can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Hopefully this wasn’t too painful

I hope you have gleaned a thing or two from this post.

Just a couple of things not to do after reading this article:

-> Punch a wall

-> Throw snowballs at two people repeatedly and take pain ratings

(Although if you do happen to do this, let me know the results please)

Things to do:

-> Meditate

-> Talk to a redhead

-> Feel free to comment/share this post with your friends 🙂

Other than that, arividerchi for now!


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