Have you ever wondered why you feel pain seemingly more strongly than someone else may feel it? Or vice versa?
It turns out that there may be scientific reasons why pain tolerance can vary from person to person. Specifically, research on genes and grey matter in the brain has been shedding light on how the brain and the body perceive pain.
There are two signals that determine how you feel pain. The first signal is biological: the force that started the pain. This could be something like a paper cut or an accidental burn from a hot pan. The second signal is how your brain interprets that force. Your brain determines what your body feels and how intense it may be.
Pain tolerance can also be influenced by a person’s emotions, body composition and lifestyle. Some specific factors that can affect your pain tolerance are:
- Depression and anxiety – Mental health can influence the way some people interpret pain.
- Exercise habits – Those who exercise regularly sometimes have a higher pain tolerance than those who don’t.
- Smoking and obesity – Smokers and those who are overweight report more pain than non-smokers and those who maintain a healthy weight.
- Injuries and chronic diseases – Spinal cord damage and chronic diseases like diabetes can cause nerve damage and affect pain tolerance.
The link between genes and pain tolerance
In one study, people rated their chronic pain on a scale of 1 to 10. After removing the people who reported zero pain, the remaining members of the group were divided into three groups, depending on their pain score. Nine percent reported feeling low amounts of pain, 46 percent reported moderate amounts of pain and 45 percent reported high amounts of pain. They were then evaluated for the genes COMT, DRD2, DRD1 and OPRK1.
Researchers discovered that the DRD1 gene was 33 percent more prevalent in the low-pain group than the high-pain group. For those with moderate pain, the COMT and OPRK1 genes were seen more. The DRD2 gene was 25 percent more common among those that reported high pain than those with moderate pain. This finding tells us that there is a link between these genes, and the individual’s perception of their level of pain.
The link between grey matter in the brain and pain tolerance
The brain contains both grey matter and white matter. Grey matter processes information, while white matter coordinates communication between various regions of the brain.
In another study, researchers assessed 116 volunteers in good health and asked them to rate the intensity of pain when heat was applied to a small area of the skin.
After the pain test, participants underwent MRI scans to examine their brain structure. Researchers found that those with less grey matter in certain areas of the brain felt pain more intensely than those with more grey matter.
Finding a link between pain tolerance and biological factors like genes, brain matter and personal lifestyle habitscould provide insight for developing new therapies and help physicians understand their patients’ pain more than ever before. New research continues to help us get closer to pinpointing pain and how it can affect you.
If you’ve been experiencing chronic pain and would like to speak with one of our expert pain specialists at Pain Management and Injury Relief, give us a call at (877) 724-6349 to make your appointment today.