Pain is an interesting phenomenon. Everyone experiences it at some point in their lives, but never in the same way. Some people can have a migraine and go throughout their day as though everything’s normal. Others need to isolate themselves in a room with no sound, no light - just complete elimination of any stimulus. Yes, the magnitude of migraines could be different, but you get the point. We all react differently to similar stimuli.
So, what’s the reason for these individual differences? Why don’t we all react uniformly when the same thing is causing our pain?
It’s difficult to say. Not all factors influencing pain are completely understood. At this time research on the subject of pain has produced inconsistent and inconclusive results. However, there are a number of things scientists do understand about pain.
First, let’s clarify the difference between two common methods of evaluating pain—pain threshold and pain tolerance. Pain threshold is the point at which you start feeling pain while pain tolerance is the measure of how much pain you can withstand. Regular physical activity and exercise can definitely influence one of these—pain tolerance.
Some researchers have found pain tolerance can be increased after several weeks of aerobic exercise, but why? When you first start exercising, the pain involved can be unfamiliar and somewhat frightening, causing you to stop in fear of hurting your body. But, as you progress and become more experienced with the sensation and associated aches and pains of exercise, you become more adept at differentiating between good pain and bad pain.
Just like anything else, the more you do it—the more you get used to it. Similar to drinking coffee, the more consistently you drink it, the less that the caffeine affects you. Each time you exercise you’ll find that you can withstand a greater amount than the time before. It’s not that the pain went away, you’ll still feel it similarly to when you started, but you’ll be better at tolerating it. In this sense, yes, being fit can make you less susceptible to pain.