By Alexandra Kaye in The Mighty.
“Pain tolerance” and “pain threshold” are phrases used to describe how much pain a person can handle, but they don’t actually mean the same thing. Pain tolerance is how much pain you can handle while still functioning (for me, this means how much pain I can handle without taking medication). Pain threshold is when your body actually starts to feel pain (so for example, for some people getting your finger pricked may hurt, and for others it doesn’t).
People who live in chronic pain often have a lower pain threshold because the body’s nerves are constantly firing — they never get a rest, so when they get triggered by “smaller” things, they will hurt more than for a “regular” person. Plus, different sensations will cause different pain for different people. For me personally, things like getting blood drawn and getting my finger pricked hurts incredibly bad for hours after, but then I get shots all the time that only hurt for a second. I’ve had two relatively simple surgeries, wisdom teeth removed and an elbow surgery, after which I never took pain medication for either because it didn’t really hurt that much. However, when I got my stitches removed, I blacked out and got really nauseous from the pain. There are so many different types of pain, and for whatever reason my body reacted to the stitches a lot worse than to the actual procedures. This is how it is for everybody, chronic pain patient or not.
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