Regular exercise can increase your pain tolerance


Man lifting weights

Related Articles

Ever wonder how a football player goes into the next play with a sprained ankle? Or how a boxer — who is obviously worn out by round seven — can get back up and keep swinging?

However, nothing seems to be more painful than the grueling schedule of a professional ballet dancer; an athlete in every sense of the word. Dancing en pointe is painful — dancers can experience blisters and chafing to more serious injuries like stress fractures — and while a pirouette may look effortless and delicate on the toes, for newbies, the pain can be intense.

So how do these athletes handle everyday aches, pains and injuries?

While they all participate in different sports, there is one thing they have in common: They have developed a higher tolerance for pain than us regular folk due to years of conditioning, training and motivation.

But we’re not that fragile. Whenever you turn up the intensity during spin class even though your quads are on fire, or you break into a stride near the finish line when you’re knees are telling you to stop, you’re breaking through a pain threshold. After all, it is already know that exercise boosts levels of endorphins (pain-relieving opioids), which can blunt pain.

Turn it up

According to a study by researchers at the University of New South Wales and Neuroscience Research Australia, regular moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise can increase pain tolerance — maybe not to the point of a pro athlete, but high enough where you can push yourself a little bit further in your workouts.

Matthew Jones, researcher at the University of New South Wales who led the study, told the New York Times that “the results remind us that the longer we stick with an exercise program, the less physically discomfiting it will feel, even if we increase our efforts ... The brain begins to accept that we are tougher than it had thought, and it allows us to continue longer, although the pain itself has not lessened.”

Identifying an injury

The problem with having a high tolerance for pain could be that you may not know when you have badly injured yourself. Professionals have endured years and years of training, so their bodies are conditioned to push through the pain. They are more attuned to their bodies and know when something feels wrong. In addition, they are surrounded by medical staff that monitors them for injuries. For the rest of us, it is important to be able to recognize when it is time to push through pain or stop the activity.

If the pain is affecting your performance, is located in a concentrated area of your body or lingers for weeks or even months, stop what you're doing and get it checked out.