Athletes often find themselves in the limelight for one of three reasons: success, failure, or injury. To avoid negative time in the spotlight, most athletes adopt a “play through the pain” mentality in order to give the impression that their bodies are not suffering during physically and mentally challenging activities. The Evidence Scientists have tried to research why athletes appear to experience pain differently. However, the research available is often inconsistent or lacking in solid evidence. Despite these validity concerns, a recent meta-analysis from the University of Heidelberg has concluded that athletes do in fact have a higher tolerance to pain than people who engage in normal levels of activity. The research team took a look at 15 studies from all over the world that focused on how athletes experience and respond to pain. They looked for consistencies as well as irregularities in all of the given studies before making their conclusion. The Research Scientifically speaking, athletes feel the same amount of pain that the rest of us do. It is their reaction and tolerance to that pain that is different. For example, a non-athlete who twists an ankle during an activity will be more likely to completely stop the activity immediately and seek treatment. An athlete will realize that they have twisted an ankle but she or he is more likely to take a brief moment to assess the injury, set the injury, and return to their activity. This issue of Pain® discusses the idea of stimuli and pain reactions in athletes in greater detail. An athlete’s type of sport does have an effect on their pain tolerance.  Athletes who engage in endurance based sports all have a similar reaction to pain, while athletes in game sports have less consistent reactions. One explanation for this offered by the researches is that endurance athletes tend to have similar physical and mental characteristics, while the profiles for game athletes are more diverse. This finding makes determining definitively whether athletes truly do possess stronger mind-over-matter abilities a challenge, but it does warrant further investigation. Implications for Pain Management The implications of pain research in athletes are helpful for pain management professionals and clients, regardless of whether the client is an athlete. Current pain management tends to focus on raising the point at which a client feels pain. Taking information gleaned from athletic pain response research leads professionals toward treatment that instead focuses on retraining the pain response and in effect raising the pain tolerance level of the patient. In practice, this means that someone suffering from chronic pain could learn psychological strategies for dealing with certain levels of pain, leaving room for more creative pain management techniques. Recent Findings A psychological study on male and female athletes shows promising data on the exact strategies athletes use to deal with pain on what seems a superhuman level. Both male and female athletes use a variety of cognitive and behavioral strategies to deal with pain. This study found that despite intense training intervals, athletes preferred to use motivational (self-control, goal setting, etc.) techniques when dealing with acute pain as opposed to distraction and rehabilitation. The research discussed above suggests that athlete pain tolerance is not solely dependent on a physical training regimen, psychological training will also have positive impacts on pain control, recovery time, and post-injury performance. While physical training helps strengthen muscles and prevent some injuries from occurring in the first place, the evidence is pretty clear that learning a different set of reactions to pain is a valid and commonly used pain management strategy used by athletes around the world. In this case, mind-over-matter enthusiasts may be on to something. Sources: