Want to fell less pain? You may want to try long-distance running. Research published in July comparing pain perception in endurance athletes, soccer players, and nonathletes suggests elite athletes overall have increased pain tolerance, higher pain thresholds, and lower pain intensity—but also that endurance athletes manage the best. In the first of three tests, researchers at Norway's University of Tromso had 17 elite soccer players, 15 elite cross-country skiers and long-distance runners, and 39 nonathletes dunk their hands in ice water to determine pain tolerance. All but one of the endurance athletes made it to a three-minute cutoff time, for an average of 179.67 seconds. Nonathletes averaged 116.78 seconds, and soccer players averaged 113.90 seconds. This makes sense to researchers, as endurance athletes withstand long periods of discomfort and soccer players experience bursts of pain from "short bouts of supramaximal intensity and receiving blows."
Still, soccer players were expected to shine in a test of pain thresholds. But when touched with an aluminum thermode that increased in temperature, soccer players and endurance athletes described pain at 117.7 degrees and 118.2 degrees, respectively, compared to 115.8 degrees for nonathletes. And in the final test of pain sensitivity, in which subjects endured the thermode at 117.5 degrees for 30 seconds, endurance athletes reported a lower pain score, followed by soccer players and then nonathletes. Researchers think psychological traits may play a role. But previous research hints "that pain tolerance is a trainable trait, and that endurance training is one way of enhancing it," Alex Hutchinson writes at Outside. Keep in mind, a higher pain tolerance can "have some negative consequences when it comes to injury prevention," per Canadian Running. As ultrarunner Amelia Boone notes, it's "nothing to be proud of." (Read more endurance sports stories.)