A new meta-analysis shows that, even though athletes' pain threshold is similar to that of other active adults, their ability to withstand the agony is superior.
PROBLEM: There's plenty of anecdotal evidence on athletes who bravely "play through the pain." Still, the scientific evidence to support the belief that athletes experience pain differently has not been as consistent.
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METHODOLOGY: University of Heidelberg researchers led by Jonas Tesarz reviewed 15 studies that compared experimentally induced pain threshold or tolerance in athletes and moderately active people. They analyzed experiments that included adult men and women; tested 568 athletes and 331 normally active control participants; and involved endurance sports, game sports, and strength sports.
RESULTS: Though the athletic subjects can stand more pain than the other active adult subjects, the magnitude they can stand varies. Endurance athletes had a fairly consistent, moderate tolerance for pain while athletes involved in game sports had greater tolerance scores that varied more widely. As for pain threshold, or the minimum intensity at which a stimulus is perceived as painful, the athletes and the control subjects did not significantly differ.