Stress lowers physical pain threshold

A research team at Tel Aviv University in Israel have found that stress significantly reduced the amount of physical pain a group of men could tolerate.

A study of 29 men found that after being subjected to a stress inducing test, their ability to cope with physical pain was significantly reduced, highlighting a link between the psychological and physical.

The subjects took part in a test where they had to answer question, which was designed to stress them out. They were told that on average, people scored about 80-90%, but they were actually unable to score more than 45%. This inability to live up to what they thought was the average expectations caused them to experience stress.

Prior to the test, they were trialled for their threshold of pain, undergoing several tests such as having a part of their skin exposed to gradually rising heat until the feeling registered as pain.

After the stress inducing test, the participants were split into different groups based on their stress level, and underwent the same pain threshold tests as before.

The researchers found that the higher the level of stress, the worse the participants were at pain modulation, and so had a lower pain threshold.

A professor who worked on the study, Ruth Defrin, said “Modern life exposes individuals to many, recurrent stressful situations. While there is no way to predict the type of stress we will feel under different circumstances, it is advisable to do everything in our power – adopt relaxation and stress reduction techniques as well as therapy – to reduce the amount of stress in our lives.”

For people with painful conditions, such as chronic back pain, stress management techniques, therefore, may be beneficial in helping them deal with their condition.

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