THURSDAY, May 17, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- A new study confirms the widespread belief that athletes can tolerate more pain than other people, a finding that may hold clues for managing pain in the general population.
German researchers reviewed 15 studies that included a total of more than 550 athletes and more than 330 people with normal activity levels. The studies included both men and women, and evaluated pain thresholds (the minimum level of intensity at which a person feels pain) and tolerance (the maximum level of pain a person can handle before it becomes too much).
Although pain threshold didn't differ between athletes and other adults, the review found that athletes had consistently higher pain tolerance. The amount of pain athletes could endure varied depending on the type of sport.
For example, endurance athletes had moderate pain tolerance and their scores were fairly uniform. Athletes involved in game sports had a higher tolerance for pain than other athletes, but there was wide variation in their scores.
These results suggest that endurance athletes are more alike in their physical and mental profiles, while athletes involved in game sports are more diverse, the researchers from the University of Heidelberg said.
The findings, which appear in the June issue of the journal Pain, may prove useful in pain management. Prior research has found that exercise can help improve quality of life and functioning in non-athletes with pain, even if the pain itself doesn't go away, lead investigator Dr. Jonas Tesarz said in a journal news release.
"It may be advisable in exercise treatment for pain patients to focus on the development of their pain-coping skills that would affect tolerance, rather than the direct alleviation of pain threshold," Tesarz said.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about pain.