Athletes and Pain Tolerance


Athletes’ attitudes towards pain, and the cognitive strategies they use while experiencing pain, may be reflected in their pain tolerance levels and their performance and adherence to sport injury rehabilitation. Association and dissociation are 2 of the more popular cognitive strategies, and most research has found that these strategies increase pain tolerance and performance. It has not clearly been established how these results are transferred to athletes overcoming the pain associated with injury rehabilitation. The major limitation of most of these pain induction techniques is that they are inherently safe, and individuals know that the induced pain can be terminated at any time. Not only will the stressor be terminated, but the pain experienced will also decline because the pain is due to the stimulation. Thus, it is possible that pain tolerance and performance levels are higher in experimental settings than would normally be in real-life situations. However, exercise-induced muscle soreness is one pain induction technique which attempts to alleviate this limitation and therefore provide more realistic levels of pain to tolerate. The pain, stiffness, prolonged reduction in muscle strength, and decreased range-of-motion that appear 24 to 48 hours after strenuous eccentric exercise does not fully subside until 8 to 10 days after the initial bout of exercise. Study participants experience long-lasting, real-life pain. Thus, it is worthwhile for those involved in sport injury rehabilitation to be aware of the effectiveness of these cognitive strategies that may assist athletes to overcome the pain associated with exercise-induced muscle soreness, and how this relates to rehabilitation.

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Correspondence to Lorette J. Pen.

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Pen, L.J., Fisher, C.A. Athletes and Pain Tolerance. Sports Med 18, 319–329 (1994).

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  • Cognitive Strategy
  • Muscle Soreness
  • Pain Tolerance
  • Athletic Trainer
  • Noxious Stimulation