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Pain tolerance and Fibromyalgia
Monday 6 May 2013
I get so annoyed when I see something about people with fibromyalgia having "low pain tolerance." Are you kidding me? If only people knew the pain we live with all the time, they'd never make that mistake.
Two things are behind this common misunderstanding. One is that some people, who are woefully uneducated about fibromyalgia, think we're just making a big deal out of "normal" aches and pains. Of course, we know they're wrong and I chose to dismiss them entirely. The other reason is that people - even some in the medical community, I've seen - confuse the terms "pain tolerance" and "pain threshold."
Pain tolerance is how much pain you can handle before breaking down mentally or physically. It tends to increase the more you deal with pain.
I know my pain tolerance is through the roof! How do I know that? Because I have kidney stones. I've passed two previously and found them highly annoying. Granted, they were small, only about 2 mm. However, my recent scans to check for liver problems showed that I currently have two more working their way down, and they're both about 4 mm. The doctor said she's seen big, tough men on the ground from those, and I've seen my own husband in agony from them even though I know he can take a huge amount of pain. Again, I've found them annoying and occasionally somewhat painful. Don't tell me I "can't handle pain"!
Pain threshold, on the other hand, is the amount of stimuli it takes to cause you pain. Those of us with fibromyalgia are clinically proven to have low pain thresholds - in fact, it's a key aspect of our illness. I've seen some research suggesting that doctors use a common blood pressure cuff to help them diagnose us, because it will cause us pain when most people just feel pressure. I frequently have people ask me if I think they have this condition, and the first question I always ask is, "Do your clothes hurt?" If they say yes, it's pretty likely. People with other conditions just don't have that experience very often.
Given the fact that every little thing causes us pain, it demonstrates even more than just by remaining functional, we're proving how high our pain tolerance is.
A while back, I had a commenter here say a nurse had told her she was rating her pain too high on the scale based on how she was acting. I'm pretty sure that nurse was underestimating how well we learn to mask extremely high pain levels. How would we ever interact with people otherwise? I know I've appeared perfectly fine in public, only to duck into a bathroom, break down into sobs for a few minutes, then pull myself together and go back to looking fine. I know I'm not the only one who does that.
I've also really had to think about where I'm hurting, like when I go to a massage therapist. They always give me a form with a body outline to mark with X's. I'm so accustomed to hurting in a lot of places that I'm not even consciously aware of it - it's just background noise. Once I start paying attention to it, though, I realize that it's pretty high background noise!
As my fibromyalgia symptoms have improved, my pain threshold has come up considerably. I can even wear jeans (as long as they're not tight) and tolerate an underwire for most of the day. But I've earned my pain tolerance, and with continued pain from multiple sources I don't imagine it'll be going down anytime soon.
Have you had people say you had low pain tolerance? What kind of pain levels are you able to function through? Leave your comments here!
The above, with comments, originally appeared here.
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