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Oct 16, 2013 09:31 AM EDT

Triathletes Tolerate Pain Longer and Better than Non-Athletes, Israel Study

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Triathletes experience less pain than non-athletes, helping them travel long distances, according to a study conducted by Tel Aviv University.

"In our study, triathletes rated pain lower in intensity, tolerated it longer, and inhibited it better than individuals in a control group," study researcher Dr.Ruth Defrin, a professor at the Tel Aviv University in Israel, said in a statement. "We think both physiological and psychological factors underlie these differences and help explain how triathletes are able to perform at such a high level."

The researchers arrived at the conclusion after studying the pain tolerance levels between non-athletes and triathletes.

The study comprised of 17 non-athletes who exercised, jogged, ran and swam on a regular basis and 19 triathletes (10 men and nine women) who were well-trained and participated in two minimum triathlons annually, including the Ironman triathlon and Olympic distance.

The researchers asked volunteers to place their hands in cold water and were told to take it away if or when they experienced pain. In the second experiment, using a heating device, researchers applied gradual increasing heat to their forearm, starting from about 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Volunteers were asked to push a button when they first felt pain and then push it again when they could no longer endure the pain.

The researchers found that both the groups felt pain at about the same temperatures. But triathletes thought of the pain as less intense and were able to withstand it for a long time.

"Triathletes appear to exhibit greater ability and/or motivation to endure pain in the experimental setup, and possibly, also in everyday life," Defrin and collegeues wrote in their report. Examiner reports.

In an attitude related questionnaire, the super athletes feared and worried less about pain, which could possibly explain the secret behind their high tolerance levels.

"The results suggest that triathletes exhibit greater pain tolerance and more efficient pain modulation than controls," the study notes.

 "Since triathletes experience repetitive pain during training and competitions, perhaps the pain inputs that reach the brain constantly trigger the brain stem structures responsible for pain inhibition, which, in turn, produce a more powerful pain modulation and tolerance, but this is yet to be tested," Defrin told Examiner via e-mail.

As a result, Defrin said that both their body and brain get used to the pain which makes it more acceptable over the course of time.

The study, which is published in the journal PAIN.

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