Does "I have a high tolerance for pain" actually mean the opposite?
December 7, 2005 11:51 AM   Subscribe

When you say you have a high tolerance for pain, don't you really mean to say "I love to complain about how much I hurt"? Or: is this really a case of the more you say it the less you mean it?

It's always seemed to me that people who claim to have a "high tolerance for pain" really have just the opposite. Proximity to such people has always left me thinking they're a helluva lot more sensitive, and actually bitch and moan a whole lot more, than I would in reaction to "equal amounts of pain."

What is the psychological deal here? How come people who make this claim are usually the LEAST tolerant and MOST whiny about basic kinds of pain?

I know that the experience of pain is entirely subjective, and that even daring to compare with someone else opens up a philosophical can of worms ... So let's just stick with pop psychology for now.
posted by quacky to Human Relations (39 answers total)
People frequently describe themselves in terms of how they'd like to be, rather than how they really are.
posted by mcwetboy at 11:59 AM on December 7, 2005

Growing up I went through a large number of surgeries and treatments that were less than pleasant to administer. Usually when I say that I have a high tolerance for pain it means that it's okay to do something to me that looks like it hurts (and probably does). I always thought that phrase was about granting permission.

So I guess it depends on whether someone is saying this before they're hurt or afterwards.
posted by Alison at 12:00 PM on December 7, 2005

I do have a high tolerance for pain. I don't know about other people who say it, but when I say it, it is usually part of an answer to a question. For instance, people will say "did xyz procedure hurt? I hear it is really painful." to which I will answer "It wasn't so bad, but then I have a high tolerance for pain."
posted by necessitas at 12:01 PM on December 7, 2005

How many people have you talked to about this? If it's less then about a thousand, you probably shouldn't be making any judgments about how people are and aren't. I personally haven't noticed this phenomenon nor have I ever heard anyone mention it.

Let's think about this logically for a moment. Some people complain about pain, and say they have a high tolerance.

Other people don't complain about pain, and they either are or are not in pain at the moment. They could be (due to a chronic injury) and if they're not complaining about it, how do you know that they don't think they have a high tolerance for pain?
posted by delmoi at 12:03 PM on December 7, 2005

Hmm, interesting perspective. I generally say I have a fairly high tolerance for pain, but I'm also the kind of person who rarely complains when I've got a killer migraine, the flu, a splinter; etc, and I prefer to hole up by myself and not have attention when I'm dealing with any sort of major pain. I don't like attention at all, in fact, unless I'm in good spirits.

I don't know where I got the idea that I have a high tolerance for pain--perhaps its because I think I'm less complainy than the people around me and I tend to stubbornly suffer through to a certain threshold before I reach for the aspirin bottle.
posted by missmobtown at 12:04 PM on December 7, 2005

If you want to measure your tolerance for pain by one usual method, fill a bucket with mostly ice and some water and time how long you can hold your hand in it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:05 PM on December 7, 2005

I just realized that I didn't fully answer your question.

To me the meaning is that it takes A LOT before I'll qualify something as pain so I'm probably not the best person to ask if something is painful. Saying "I have a high tolerance for pain" is more of a disclaimer issued when someone is looking for an opinion on whether or not something is painful.
posted by necessitas at 12:06 PM on December 7, 2005

Well, my experience is actually the opposite with a fairly large sample size. People who claim to have a high tolerance for pain actually often do either have a higher pain tolerance (or they don't but are ultimately more stoic about it). Granted, in my case the "pain" is far more immediate as these conversations happens over a 5-inch large-bore needle that's pointed directly at their spine, groin, jugular, etc.

Perhaps that makes people more honest, or on preview it's what Alison said.
posted by drpynchon at 12:07 PM on December 7, 2005

I say I have a high tolerance for pain. I've been told by ER staff that I don't seem like I'm in terrible pain. However, upon examination, they've determined that I had some ailment that should entail terrible pain that prevents me from even standing. My physio has also pointed out that I have a high tolerance for pain. I don't brag about this, though. I just count myself lucky, since I have a chronic illness that entails a lot of pain.
posted by acoutu at 12:07 PM on December 7, 2005

I say it, but mostly to my boyfriend, so I guess I really mean "I have a higher tolerance for pain than you," which is pretty obvious. Thing X might hurt pretty bad but I deal with it much better than he does.
posted by luftmensch at 12:09 PM on December 7, 2005

I've heard the "high tolerance for pain" thing put two different ways.

1)People who claim they have a high tolerance for pain are saying that they aren't bothered by pain and when other people complain that something is really painful they don't experience it the same way. This is what necessitas describes and is the way I've always understood it.

2)One woman I know says she has a high tolerance for pain and she means that she is more sensitive to pain. According to her, someone with a low threshold for pain can only experience so much pain before their pain sensors 'top out'. She figures she 'tops out' with a lot more pain than the average person and exerpiences more intense pain. This is what she describes as a high threshold for pain. I think that's a really weird interpretation, but if she's not the only one that thinks of it that way, maybe this could explain some of the confusion?
posted by raedyn at 12:12 PM on December 7, 2005

I've just started disclaiming "but I may not be the best judge of that" with regard to pain, heat, cold, and sweetness, all things I seem to have a skewed perception of. If it's a medical professional, I'll use the phrase "high tolerance" or sometimes "high stupidity," as I seem to be capable of toughing out a pretty intense amount of pain simply because the pain makes me too stupid to register that it's that bad.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:13 PM on December 7, 2005

I have a high tolerance for pain, or so I thought till I read this question :). I don't think I have even volunteered it unless someone commented on the old piercing marks or tattoos. I did once have a young phlebotomist who was getting frustrated at not being able to find a vein in my arm nervously laugh "I'm supposed to be telling YOU that!" when I told her to just relax, so I have some objective criteria for my claim. Apparently I bruise just like everyone else, though - she left me with a silver-dollar sized mark in the crook of my elbow...
posted by phearlez at 12:14 PM on December 7, 2005

Usually when I hear people say this, it either means they have a lot of tattoos/piercings, or they want to be spanked harder.
posted by matildaben at 12:22 PM on December 7, 2005

FWIW, the only time I feel the need to discuss my pain tolerance is when working with a new massage therapist, as I look all totally scrawny, but have some chronic problems with my back that are greatly helped with fairly intense pressure to trigger points. (I actually have a low tolerance for most other types of pain.)
posted by desuetude at 12:26 PM on December 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you want to measure your tolerance for pain by one usual method, fill a bucket with mostly ice and some water and time how long you can hold your hand in it.

Until the water warms up and the ice melts, or my hand turns blue and I can't feel it anymore.

And what matildaben said. If you can pierce yourself somewhere nerve-dense with a large gauge needle, you might have a high tolerance for pain.

But there's many kinds of pain. Cuts, scrapes, contusions and perforations don't bother me at all. I can grab an egg out of hard boiling water. I don't like cold, but I seem more tolerant of it than most.

I hate chronic pain though. When my back gets torqued out of a normal, happy state I'm miserable. But it's mainly because I can't move as usual. I've had more than my share of toothaches, and I can only ignore them for so long. Same with earaches.

And there's a lot of different kinds of pain. I think it amounts to whether or not you're in control of the pain, whether or not it's expected or unexpected, the mindstate at the time and more.
posted by loquacious at 12:29 PM on December 7, 2005

raedyn is closest so far, though she mixes up "tolerance" with "threshold." According to my understanding, there are three issues here:

1) How much pain you actually feel. Upon given the same stimulus (say, a sharp object being pressed into the flesh), different people will say that the sensation starts to become "painful" after different amounts of time. This is your pain threshold - the point at which a given stimulus starts to become painful.

2) How much pain you are able to take before finding it unbearable. This is your pain tolerance - that is, how much of a painful sensation one can endure before crying out, begging for it to stop, or passing out.

If the distance between (1) and (2) is great, than you have a high pain tolerance. If it is small, then you have a low pain tolerance. To be clear: if you can be exposed to a large amount of stimulus before feeling pain, this simply means that your pain threshold is high, not your tolerance. It is entirely possible to have a very high pain threshold but a very low pain tolerance.

BTW, the subject of how to accurately assess pain thresholds and tolerances has a voluminous literature. There are numerous instruments to measure patients' subjective experiences of pain, the most famous of which is the McGill Pain Questionnaire, which contains various scales for patients to rate the intensity of the pain they are feeling.
posted by googly at 12:31 PM on December 7, 2005

2) How much pain you are able to take before finding it unbearable. This is your pain tolerance - that is, how much of a painful sensation one can endure before crying out, begging for it to stop, or passing out.

This is how I've always understood pain tolerence. The ability to be in pain and not show it. I'm very good at that. I figure if you can stick a lit cigarette into the palm of your hand until its out, and not scream out in pain, you have a high pain tolerence. Ditto with 23 gauge needles in nerve-rich areas.
posted by puke & cry at 12:37 PM on December 7, 2005

I have a high tolerance for pain. Sharp pain (dental work, shots, giving blood) bothers me more than dull pain (toothache, back pain). A friend of my dad's was a Navy SEAL, and he taught me how to sort of separate your conscious mind from the pain impulses through auto-hypnosis. Helps with the sharp pains, especially hitting your toe on a chair leg, etc.

The high tolerance for dull pain can be a bad thing; I apparently have had a slipped disk in my lower back for over a year that I've just been "living with". I fell rather hard on my tailbone last year, and earlier this year I heard a "pop", after which I was paralyzed for almost a full day on the floor of my apartment, experience the most severe pain I have ever felt in my life, scream inducing, to the point of passing out from. The autohypnosis didn't help much there.
posted by weirdoactor at 12:39 PM on December 7, 2005

Best answer: Hurting is the definition of pain, so when people say they aren't hurt by pain, they really just mean they don't feel pain in the same way most people seem to. You can't tolerate something you don't feel in the first place.

For example, I rarely get headaches, and so I never take pain relievers. I don't say "I have a high tolerance for headaches," because it's clear to me that I'm not getting the same headaches everyone else is getting. But for something as indistinct as "pain," that's not as clear.

So someone who doesn't feel as much pain might not realize they're not feeling the same pain as everyone else, and may think they're just better at handling it. But then when they do feel as much pain as everyone else generally does, they're not as experienced in handling it, hence they complain more.

We don't have any way to measure pain. It could very well be that some of us are walking around constantly enduring pain more extreme than the rest of us will ever experience, but such a person wouldn't claim to have a high tolerance for pain, because they'd have no way of knowing they were any different.
posted by scottreynen at 12:40 PM on December 7, 2005

I never thought I had a particularly high tolerance to pain until I had a doctor tell me otherwise following some emergency surgery. I went to the ER with what I (and they) thought was a routine case of gallstones, but once they had me opened up they discovered that I had a single gallstone roughly the size of a handball with the gangrenous remains of a gall bladder loosely wrapped around it.

After that the surgeon told me that I have "an inhumanly high tolerance for pain" and that if I am every feeling moderate discomfort I should assume "normal people would be writhing in agony."

With that said, I think that pain tolerance is equal parts physiology and psychology. The physical aspect is (for me) locational: if I get a papercut it hurts like a mother, but ruptured internal organs aren't a problem. But I grew up hearing "Stop crying, don't be a baby!", so I tend not to tell people when I am in pain, either way.

Does the attitude lead to suppression of pain response? Perhaps. Sounds like there's grant money in there somewhere.
posted by mkhall at 12:52 PM on December 7, 2005

Holy crap mkhall, you can't tell that story and then not finish it. What happened after?

When I say "I have a high tolerance for pain", it's half-joking--I don't think my pain tolerance is particularly high, but I say that to reassure people who think they've hurt me when they've stepped on my foot or something that it really didn't hurt at all.
posted by Anonymous at 1:16 PM on December 7, 2005

2)One woman I know says she has a high tolerance for pain and she means that she is more sensitive to pain. According to her, someone with a low threshold for pain can only experience so much pain before their pain sensors 'top out'. She figures she 'tops out' with a lot more pain than the average person and exerpiences more intense pain. This is what she describes as a high threshold for pain. I think that's a really weird interpretation, but if she's not the only one that thinks of it that way, maybe this could explain some of the confusion?

She's out of her mind, people don't 'top out' on pain unless they're in a car accident or something, and she's probably never felt anything near that.


The reason I think I have a high tolerance for pain is because that's what my Mom said. It means I don't complain or act bothered very much by it, and that's true. I met a girl once who noticed the same thing about herself, she said her appendix burst and she walked around for a couple days without even complaining about it, and she nearly died that's an extreme case, but that's what most people mean. Pain doesn't cause their behavior to change as much as it would in other people.

There are two ways to look at this: one is that some people hurt less then other people, and two is that their behavior changes less then other people (i.e. less screaming and wailing). People in the second group might still complain about it. So when they're saying "I have a high tolerance for pain" they're actually saying "I'm in so much pain, but I'm only nonchalantly telling you. Look how stoic I am. If you were me, you'd be doubled over crying for your mamma".
posted by delmoi at 1:20 PM on December 7, 2005

My high tolerance to pain is my ability to effectively ignore it or put it into the mental box of "hey that hurts" without showing a lot of pain in my reaction to the action.

For example, I used to have PT for tendinitis. My appointments were very early in the morning for my sleep schedule and the therapist massaged big knots in my tendons, hard. I would say deadpan, "that hurts" to which she would massage even harder, to which I'd say, "no really, that hurts a lot. Because I'm not screaming doesn't mean I
m not in pain."
posted by plinth at 1:25 PM on December 7, 2005

This has made me rethink. I would formerly have said I have a high tolerance for pain, but in fact clearly I just don't feel a lot of pain. Eg, if I complain something hurts badly, probably I need to go to a hospital. I often have injuries or bruises I can't remember getting, and I just don't hurt very much except for severe injuries. When it does hurt a lot, why then of course I will tell you, but most things just really don't seem to get past the "discomfort" point.

On the tolerance front, I'm pretty cool with anything except stomachache-type pain. I would rather have thumbscrews than campylobacter again.

I'm sure part of this is due to standard New Zealand male upbringing, which requires you to endure injury without visible distress unless you're a big girl's blouse. I suspect that if you have been trained to be stoic, this probably diminishes your ability to sense pain. And this could be a bad thing, too - think lepers and bits dropping off because you can't tell you've hurt yourself. Or not going to the doctor because of some little niggle which doesn't seem worth it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:32 PM on December 7, 2005

If you are able to do anything else (such as talk about how high your tolerance for pain is) while you are in severe pain, you have a high tolerance for pain. The rest of us will be writing on the ground screaming wordlessly. (If it's slightly less severe, there will be words inappropriate for printing on a family Web site.)
posted by kindall at 1:35 PM on December 7, 2005

I say that I have a high tolerance for pain but in reality it may well be a higher than typical reticence to bother other people about my pain. I don't know. I have a poor response to most painkillers, so often I know that the "cure" may be worse than the problem and I chose to just grit my teeth, shed some silent tears and suck it up when others would be begging for the Vicodin.

However, I have a chronic illness which manifests itself with joint and muscle pain of varying degrees in an intermittent fashion. I know that several people I know who also consider themselves to have a high tolerance or a strong capacility to handle pain also deal with chronic pain problems. I wonder if there's a correlation -- if you have to live with chronic pain, you get so used to feeling "off" on any given day that an acute pain has to reach a pretty significant level to move you to action, or has to be significantly different from your usual pain to provoke a response. I know that I was able to write off midsection pain from a stone-filled gallbladder as a stronger-than-usual muscle problem until I developed a near-fatal bout of pancreatitis as a result of the gallstones. In that case, a lower tolerance would've been a good thing.
posted by Dreama at 2:29 PM on December 7, 2005

Holy crap mkhall, you can't tell that story and then not finish it. What happened after?

I'm leading a normal life as a floating head in a glass jar.

Actually, and more germain to the question asked, they removed the nasty bits, cleaned everything up, stapled my guts closed, and sent me home. Everything was pretty much fine for two years.

Unfortunately, in the weeks post Hurricane Wilma I started feeling some of the discomfort my surgeon warned me about. It appears* that in dragging fallen trees from the back yard to the front for pick up I have managed to rip open my abdominal wall. I am not in any pain, though. High tolerance to pain, or just an idiot? You be the judge.

*This is the initial diagnosis, but I won't know for certain for a few more days. On topic, the question the doctors have is that if the diagnosis is correct why am I not in much more pain.

And on preview: I think Dreama is pretty close to the mark.
posted by mkhall at 2:42 PM on December 7, 2005

It seems to me that a high tolerance for pain is just another way of saying that your nervous system gives poor feedback? I would say I have a "high tolerance for pain" because a few times people have come up to me and said: "Oh wow, doesn't that hurt?" due to some situation I might be in, to which I reply, "Yes, quite a bit". hmmmm... I guess my definition of HTFP would be that pain doesn't evoke a physical or emotional reaction in most situations.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:50 PM on December 7, 2005

In my opinion it doesn't mean `how much pain do you feel?' but `how do you react to the pain you feel?'. I can take many painful things with a straight face, although it does hurt me.

Example - I bash my shin on the coffee table and nobody is around, I wipe a tear from my eye and continue on, straight faced.

If someone is around, I tend to be a bit more vocal. I don't think I'm trying to suck up attention, but it just seems to be the way many people are wired.

After my wisdom teeth were taken out, I had no pain. I wasn't being macho and denying the pain, the sockets simply didn't hurt. Then, they got infected, and hurt in a high and quite extraordinarily concentrated way to the point where the industrial strength codeine tablets wouldn't even touch the pain.

I didn't moan and complain, I stayed tense and angry for about three days then went to the dentist (clove oil = instant blissful relief).

My partner has a fairly good pain threshold, but when she gets muscle cramps at night she wakes me up noisily (often giving me a near heart attack in the process).

When I have had muscle cramps at night, I tend to incorporate them into my dreams, sleep through them and then think `Oh, that was real' when I stand up and feel my leg hurting in the morning.

I also have the ability to cramp my feet easily, which I do sometimes while lying in bed at night. It hurts a lot, and I lay there and try to keep a straight face. I don't *like* the pain, but I've done this for years, and I think that this sort of thing also builds up pain tolerance.

Finally, I find it much easier to tolerate pain if I know it's not doing me harm. Hand in a bucket of ice water - no problems, I can outlast most people because I know that it's not doing me harm - sure it hurts, but I'll be okay. Hand in a bucket of scalding water? I simply wouldn't do it.
posted by tomble at 4:07 PM on December 7, 2005

Well, when I say I have a high tolerance for pain, that's exactly what I mean. I can take a lot of pain without it being a big issue for me, and I certainly don't complain about it.

Meaning, I have tattoos, piercings, etc... and the pain factor has never been a deterent for me. I was never afraid of the pain and that never stopped me from ghaving these things done to myself. I also don't complain and whine about the pain afterwards.

I have also had multiple intense surgeries, and again, the pain was never what I was afraid of, and I did well during recovery, not needing a lot of pain killers, and not whining up a storm and needing lots of help.

I think that I feel pain in the same way anyone else does, but I have a high tolerance for it, in the sense that I can except it and handle it and not make a big deal out of it. I don't like the pain in a masochistic sense, but if pain is part of the process of something I want to achieve (like say, getting a tattoo), or something that is inevitable (like if I have to have an operation) then I go for it and the pain factor is basically a non-issue.
posted by RoseovSharon at 4:17 PM on December 7, 2005

Best answer: It seems like comparing pain threshold/tolerance is one big contest. "Well, how about the time I drove a railroad spike through my hand, and I played basketball for four more months?" "Oh yeah? A couple of years ago, my leg snapped in half, and I only went to the hospital when my mom made me . . . and I walked there."

I haven't seen or heard anyone -- not here, but ever in my life -- say they have a low pain threshold or low tolerance. Personally, I'm a fucking weenie. If I have a splinter, I'm going to whine, if not whimper, the whole time I'm picking it out.

To quit derailing quite as badly as I am, there definitely seem to be people who always want to talk about their high pain tolerance, which basically means they want to whine about how much pain they're in. That doesn't seem much different from the way I whine when I deal with a splinter or bee sting. (Of course, these are also the people who make ow-ow-help bad gurgling noises when I start giving them massages.) But there are certainly people with high pain tolerance who walk around every day in plenty of pain that we don't know about, 'cause they don't say anything, 'cause they really do have high pain tolerance. Then there are the people who feel the pain, but convince themselves that it's meaningless. . . .
posted by booksandlibretti at 5:08 PM on December 7, 2005

I agree with the posters who've already said there are two kinds of 'high tolerance' for pain - those who really don't feel as much pain as others, and (for example) only feel an injury that'd cause searing agony in most people as a dull throb, or whatever; and people who (for whatever reason) feel as much pain as most, but don't respond to it as vocally or physically.

I guess I'm one of the latter sort, and I'm sure it's a learned thing - I certainly wasn't taught to hide pain or distress as a kid, by all accounts I'd bawl my eyes out if something hurt me, and I most definitely don't do the trad-masculine 'no showing of squishy human feelings' thing now or ever. A few years of sometimes rather intense experience with recreational pain and restraint, though, and suddenly I'd describe myself as having a high tolerance for pain from everyday accidents, illnesses etc, which is odd - I can identify that I'm feeling pain, and I certainly don't think I feel any less than I used to, but I feel much less of a need to respond verbally or physically, by hopping about and screaming or whatever. I think lots of experience with different kinds of pain, in a variety of situations (both 'safe' and otherwise) has given me a sort of analytical, detached attitude to it. I can say 'yes, that's really hurting me', but I've lost the need to go 'ow'. Actual physical injury still scares the shit out of me, though. I wonder if that's the case with a lot of people who claim to have a high tolerance for pain - they really aren't that troubled by how much something hurts, but the injury itself scares or shocks them.

There'll always be the 'nothing bothers me!' bravado at work in some people when they're claiming things like a high tolerance to pain too, of course.
posted by terpsichoria at 5:56 PM on December 7, 2005

Eh, I think it depends. Some people say things like that because it sounds better and a little more clinical than "I'm impressively tough." On the other hand, some people say it more matter-of-factly, in response to questions for which "I guess I have a high tolerance for pain" is a legit response.

Also, if someone is freaking out when you're calmly cleaning and bandaging a gash on your hand, it's a good way to avoid saying "you're a little wussy if you'd be whining about such a minor cut."
posted by mumeishi at 7:30 PM on December 7, 2005

When I say I have a high tolerance for pain, it means that I can be in physical pain and get on fine with my daily functions. For example, I ran cross country in high school and ran with a pretty painful knee injury, whacked hip muscle, and pulled Achilles' tendon. Not once did I miss a practice. For this, I consider myself having a high tolerance because I didn't let the pain stop me from what I wanted to do. Now, as to whether or not I was smart is a whole other issue.
Also, in the martial arts, I was usually the test-subject because I was willing to be put in painful holds, so long as I know it wouldn't break/pull anything while others would tap out long before me.
That said, I know exactly what you're saying. If someone complains a lot about pain, the last thing on my mind is they have a high tolerance.
posted by jmd82 at 7:56 PM on December 7, 2005

Best answer: I agree with booksandlibretti on this. I don't want to suggest that everyone who claims to have a high tolerance is full of it; however, in my experience, people often talk about their high tolerance for pain when they wish to maximize others' perception of their discomfort.
For instance, I recently heard someone complaining about having a headache, and quickly following the complaint with a statement of his high tolerance for pain. The implication was that, if someone with a high tolerance for pain was driven to complain about a headache, then clearly it was a truly terrible headache and worthy of being taken very seriously.
I think that, a lot of times, the claim of a high tolerance for pain is made to negate any impression in others that the claimant is just bitching about an insignificant level of discomfort.
posted by feathermeat at 8:41 PM on December 7, 2005

Response by poster: feathermeat really kind of got the controversy I was wondering about.

I was thinking particularly about headaches, "tweaked" back, "migraines," and other kinds of recurring pain that I seem to hear about from close associates. Associates who, if confronted with "Oh come on now, seriously. It couldn't be that bad. I've had headaches, and what you describe is pretty much what I have." -- would probably punch me in the neck for saying so, and then follow up with an HTFP claim.

However, these same people are also most likely to be heard complaining, bitching and moaning, lying still in a dark room, applying heat pads, reaching weakly with trembling hand for those pills that are slightly out of reach ...

Or jumping up and down howling "ow ow ow ow ow ow ow!" after a little slip of the chef's knife -- which accident incidentally is likely to excuse them for the rest of the kitchen duty for the day.

It seems psychically important to them to cover their histrionics with the HTFP claim, as if to render impossible anyone's true understanding of the depth of their special pain: "Since I am known to have a HTFP," they seem to be saying, "my complaint in this instance is especially valid and should not be discounted or even identified with by anyone."
posted by quacky at 8:43 AM on December 8, 2005

I blocked a kick badly once during a sparring class and cracked my finger, my girlfriend convinced me to go to A&E to have it checked out.

The guy told me to do some things to my hand, so I pushed it up, and stretched it and crunched my hand into a fist, and he said "if you can do that, it can't be broken," and I said "well, it sort of hurts, but I've been getting my ass bounced off the walls all night, so by comparison, it's nothing."

He didn't believe I'd be able to move my finger like I did if it was broken, but he got an xray just in case, and of course my finger was broken.
posted by The Monkey at 5:58 PM on December 8, 2005

I know that the experience of pain is entirely subjective...

That's not quite true. The everyday claims people make about their tolerance for pain may be bull, but that doesn't mean people don't have measurably different tolerances for pain.

In recent news, for example, it has been noted that redheads have a low tolerance for pain compared to other folk:
Dr Edwin Liem, of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, studied the effects of an inhaled anaesthetic called desflurane on women between the ages of 19 and 40.

Their physical responses to the drug were closely monitored. In particular, Dr Liem looked out for unconscious reflex arm or leg movements in response to painful stimulation.

He found that women with red hair needed more of the drug to stop these reflex movements compared to those with dark or blond hair.
So their bodies, which presumably couldn't lie about this, were telling the doctor, "Shit, that hurts!" earlier than the bodies of women with other hair colors in the same circumstances. It's genetic.
posted by pracowity at 4:31 AM on December 28, 2005

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