Seven surprising things that could lower your pain threshold
Do you have a lower pain threshold than your friends and family, but you can't understand why? Here are seven possible explanations that might surprise you!
See also: '28 million adults in UK' affected by chronic pain
1. You're not getting enough sleep
Research carried out in Norway has demonstrated that people suffering from insomnia at least once a week had a lower pain threshold than those who managed to get a decent night's sleep every evening.
Many other studies have shown that sleep deprivation worsens our experience of pain. If you think your pain threshold may have lowered when your sleep deteriorated – it's worth taking steps to try and improve your sleeping patterns or see your GP if you regularly suffer with insomnia.
2. You're stressed
We all know that stress is not good for us - and it has been linked to weight gain, depression and heart disease among other things. Several studies have also demonstrated that stress and anxiety can increase the body's sensitivity to pain – both in the long and short term.
One study saw subjects exposed to a stress-inducing test before having their pain tolerance tested, and it was found to be significantly lower after the test than before it.
3. You don't do enough exercise
Exercise has a key role to play in a healthy lifestyle, and it has also been proven to increase people's tolerance of pain.
Researchers at the University of Florida subjected otherwise healthy people to tests which showed they could take more pain after exercising. However results were more mixed among those with chronic pain. Some saw the same improvement while others went the other way and saw their pain tolerance slip further.
4. Prescription drugs are to blame
It might seem counter-intuitive, but long-term use of certain painkillers can actually leave patients more sensitive to pain than they were before they were prescribed the drug. This is particularly the case for opioid-based medications – with tolerance building up and the drug lacking the effect it had at first.
Changes can take place in the brain which leave the patient more sensitive to pain and withdrawal from the drug is usually advised, although the effects of this can initially make it seem like the pain is unchanged or getting worse.
5. You're suffering from depression
Pain tolerance has been shown to be lower among people suffering from depression, who were found by one study to have more frequent, intense and unpleasant pain episodes.
Although the nature of the relationship between the two problems is not fully understood, one theory is that depression causes a "malfunction" in the brain's pain perception pathways. The link is so well established however, that chronic joint pain, limb pain and back pain can all be presenting symptoms of depression.
6. You have an iron deficiency
Anaemia is a reasonably common condition where a lack of iron in the body leads to a lack of red blood cells, which store and carry oxygen in the blood.
This means that sufferers struggle with physical activity – and can lack concentration – although the condition is often difficult to spot because symptoms can be mild. However a lowered pain threshold is one of the problems associated with the illness when it gets into its more advanced stages.
If you're concerned, taking an iron supplement can help.
7. You have ginger hair
It's obvious that some of us are just born with lower pain thresholds than others, but we bet you didn't know that red hair could be one of the signifiers.
A study carried out in 2004 found that redheaded subjects required more anesthesia than other patients to achieve the same level of pain blockage.
One theory relating to this is that the MC1R gene – which is known to cause red hair – has receptors in the same family of genes whichdeal with pain relief.