Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pain threshold

Did you know everyone has a different pain threshold? They can measure it with a dolorimeter, which shows when you begin to feel pain. Everyone is different. I used to think I have a high pain threshold, because I've had a fair amount of it and think I must be used to it. This, however, is known as your pain tolerance, and you don't get more used to it the more you have it. Wikipedia tells me this:
It is widely believed that regular exposure to painful stimuli will increase pain tolerance - i.e. increase the ability of the individual to handle pain by becoming more conditioned to it. However, this is not true: the greater exposure to pain will result in more painful future exposures. Repeated exposure bombards pain synapses with repetitive input, increasing their responsiveness to later stimuli, through a process similar to learning. Therefore, although the individual may learn cognitive methods of coping with pain, these methods may not be sufficient to cope with the boosted response to future painful stimuli.
I know that I've had quite a few accidents and operations in my lifetime, and I don't like to use even tylenol or ibuprofin to mask pain. But this is also because I've discovered that I just keep going and hurt myself if I don't feel the pain. Just ask Smart Guy.

When I broke my pelvis in six places and shattered my sacrum in 2000, I was laid up for several months. After waking up from an operation with an external fixator drilled into my hipbones, I learned what pain could really feel like. I wrote about the incident here.

But that's not the reason for this post. I wonder about pain medication. As I was recovering, I discovered that the doctors had put me on oxycontin, which is a nasty drug to kick. The doctors were no help at all, either. (This was before it was a street drug.) They just told me to cut the pill in half, which I found out, by looking it up, would release the entire dose all at once!

Getting free of that drug required me to deal with the feeling of ants crawling under my skin, day after day. I weaned myself off by using percocet, which is also addicting but I could stop it once the pain of the addiction began to wane. I think I must have a high pain threshold because I keep doing things that push my limits.

I am always in some pain: either from the nerve damage down my right leg, or sore knees, or my rotator cuffs, both of which send signals down my arms now and then. The problem with pain medication is that you continue to need more of it to get the same effect. So, I live with it. What do YOU do to deal with pain? Or is your pain threshold so high you don't feel any?


  1. Pain. My faithful companion. At least you know you are living if you have pain. If it goes away my dear friend, we are in serious trouble!
    It sounds like your pain was caused like my pain: From things that caused joy. Just like a pretty, shiny man....?

  2. Ooh, you've hit a nerve, so to speak. I regularly wake up with nasty headaches, which get worse with stress, alcohol, or chocolate (sob). Usually a half-tab of my prescription pain pill can erase the headache for at least 24 hours. But lately the headaches return during the day, and I've taken the half-tabs more often. I know that taking meds can actually cause "rebound" headaches. I also know that my doctor will not increase my prescription. So I'm trying, gradually, to dial back, eat right, stretch, relax, etc. But I've never liked pain, and my first thought is always to reach for a pill, so I've got some big changes to make!

  3. I wake up in pain and live with it throughout the day. My leg spasms are very distressing, but I stick with muscle relaxants and acetaminophen only. One scare with a near addiction to Hydrocodone made me fearful of those types of medications. I understand the pain threshold/tolerance measure, but I also believe some pain is a learned reaction. As a nurse I witnessed many different reactions to pain that were taught by parents to their children. Cultural and ethnic background was a factor too. It is a very interesting study in human behavior.

  4. Fortunately, I've never had to deal with pain very often. A few operations and I don't mind taking pain meds for a few days afterwards, but I've never had to deal with pain for long periods. I do take a pill which causes joint pain and started taking a Tramadol every morning but find I'm not doing that at all now.

    One thing that irks me is whenever something happens, a doctor/dentist will ask if I want pain medication. Well........noooooooooo. It is only for a few days so why would I want a prescription. I found with this ankle that I no longer do well on Advil or a like med; it upsets my stomach these days. Advil was always a fall back in a pinch.

    Needless to say, I've never had the accidents you've had and no doubt would take a pain medication long term if necessary. Sounds like oxycontin is a really nasty drug. Should I find myself in the same position you were in, I would certainly weigh the after affects against the present situation before taking it.

  5. Wow, so sorry you have pain. I hope it eases for you!

  6. Reading your post and the comments that followed have made me realize how luck I have been. Other than migraines in college and one or two minor injuries I never really had to deal with severe pain. The strongest drug I have ever taken was Tylenol 3 for 2 or 3 days. For the everyday aches I take Ibuprofen and tell myself to keep moving. I am now knocking on wood that I remain pain free, I wish the same for you as well DJan.

  7. I have constant pain due to fibromyalagia...but it varies in degrees and places...sometimes my hips are so painful...especially when I am trying to sleep...I rely alot on Aleve and positioning of pillows, etc. I don't do well with narcotics, I hallucinate or get nauseous if they prescribe me any of that stuff.
    Massage is probably the best medicine ever for me.

  8. I am not a big fan of pain pills for any length of time since I've proven quite well I have an addictive personality. I've been fortunate that I've never really had any major accidents or surgeries. Most times I stick with Tylenol or Advil but don't even need that very often.

    I hate that you were left to wean yourself off an addictive medication on your own. I know enough people who have been addicted to oxycontin to know it's nasty, nasty. A great many people wouldn't have been able to deal with it on their own.

    It's really interesting that they have a way to actually measure your pain threshold. Now I'm wondering what mine is! I'd imagine it's not terribly high.

  9. apparently redheads suffer more than most with a low pain threshold. i get weak knees and feel faint whenever i imagine pain so this makes sense to me! however, with 'woman's pain' i seem to be able to cope better than most. i very rarely take any medicine for anything but thats mostly because i was so ill as a child, i think i have an aversion to it.

    i feel for you being in pain.

  10. I have a crack in the meniscus of my knee (cartilage around the knee.) It hurts when I walk too much on hard surfaces or go down stairs. It was not treated well at the time of the accident so it hurts pretty often. They gave me Vioxx which really hurt my body more than it healed it so I stopped medicine cold. Whenever I feel the hurt starting I visualize it going away and work hard at not feeling it. It usually goes away… or I don’t feel it!

  11. I have had my fair share of pain D-Jan. I get terrible migraines which last for 3/4 days and sinus pressure pain. It's hard to tell the difference. I also get back pain from time to time. In England we don't complain about pain. We just pretend we don't have it. It's a dignity thing. People hardly ever talk about it, or that's my experience anyway. The migraine pills I have do nothing. Once the sickness is over I take Ibuprofen but I usually have to wait a day or so before I can take those otherwise they just make me sick. Sorry you have so much pain to cope with.
    Blessings, Star

  12. I don't have a lot of pain tolerance but have suffered some horrible pains and for that reason I must feel like this next pain will be worse.

    We try to use venetian blinds or screens in windows so hawks and other birds can tell the opening is not a dark cave to flee into and end up breaking their neck or wing flying into glass.

    I have also seen a series of small hooks screwed at the top and bottom of windows and then white cord wove back and forth to keep birds from flying into the glass.

  13. Fascinating article on pain, DJan. I had heard that pain actually begets more pain but not quite as succintly as you put it. Nice to know about Oxycontin. I had no idea it was so hard to withdraw from. NO THANKS. I have peripheral neuropathy for no known reason (idiopathic) and I took medicine to help manage the pain for years but it took a serious toll on my liver. I learned to live without it but it was hard. Like you, there is much I've just learned to live with and some days that's some HARD LIVIN'!

    I know many others have it much worse so I keep pluggin' along and tackling life as much as I can. I am always inspired by people like you who are compassionate and yet move forward in spite of everything.

  14. My pain comes and goes like some of the others! I sure didn't know that about pain pills ...I always wondered how people got addicted! Thanks for the info

  15. My Husband has a rare disorder, it is called Trigeminal Neuralgia it is the worst pain known to mankind..years ago it was known as the Suicide disease. Pain pills do not even begin to touch the pain..he takes a seizure medication that messes up the pain signals to his brain..unfortunately it also slows down his brain. I have never seen pain like his in my entire life. My leg pain and shoulder pain probably is so minor compared to his pain..that I feel silly complaining about it.
    The Doctors have given him an endless suppl;y of Oxycodon..he takes only about two or three a month..because he doesn't want to be addicted..and he says they don't help that much anyway. I took one, on a day when my shoulder hurt..I slept all afternoon:)


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