Thursday, October 17, 2013

Triathletes Feel Less Pain Than Others

Me at the 2005 SEA Games on the left
We know triathletes can handle a lot of pain, especially since they need to push through pain barriers to complete their races. A new study published recently shed some light on how good triathletes are at handling pain.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel studied a group of Ironman triathlon (swim 3.8km, bike 180km and run 42.195km--yes they go through a lot of pain) triathletes and another group (who swam, ran and did other sports but do not compete in races).

Both groups of participants went through a battery of tests including one that involved applying a heating device to one arm while the other arm was submerged in cold water. In addition the participants also had to answer a questionnaire on pain perception, stress perception and fear of pain.

Compared to the other group, the triathletes displayed greater pain tolerance during the tests. They rated lower pain intensity on the pain scale and tolerated pain longer allowing the researchers concluding that triathletes can perform at high levels because they feel less pain compared to casual exercisers. What the researchers cannot decide is whether triathletes compete in triathlons because they feel less pain or they feel less pain because they train for and compete in triathlons.

My personal experience suggests the latter. Cumulative effects of hard workouts does blunt the body and mind to pain. It makes you more willing to put up with pain and tough it out until you cross the finish line.

Geva N and Defrin R (2013). Enhanced Pain Modulation Among Triathletes: A Possible Explanation For Their Exceptional Capabilities. J Int Assoc for study of Pain. doi : 10.1016/j.pain.2013.06.031

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