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Pain Tolerance


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As an offshoot on the thread, “Is a Little Pain Okay?,” I thought some might be interested in this reference to a pain study, as well as a non-dancer’s view on why dancers are tolerant to pain.


It’s from a book by a surgeon, from a chapter on pain. It’s also intriguing that they chose to study ballet dancers:


In one study… researchers measured pain threshold and tolerance levels in fifty-two dancers from a British ballet company and fifty-three university students using a standard method called the cold-pressor test….


The results were striking. On average, female students reported pain at sixteen seconds and pulled their hands out of the ice water at thirty-seven seconds. Female dancers went almost three times as long on both counts….


What explains the difference? Probably it has something to do with the psychology of ballet dancers – a group distinguished by self-discipline, physical fitness, and competitiveness, as well as by a high rate of chronic injury. Their driven personalities and competitive culture evidently inure them to pain: that’s why they are able to perform through sprains and stress fractures, and why half of all dancers develop long-term injuries….


Other studies along these lines have shown that extroverts have greater pain tolerance than introverts, that drug abusers have low pain tolerance and thresholds, and that, with training, one can diminish one’s sensitivity to pain….


From Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, by Atul Gawande

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I'm not sure, dbleon, but I suppose it could. My Mom had a horrible time with her wisdom teeth, but I had 3 impacted ones done at one time and went to a Broadway show that night. However, the 4th one, about 30 odd years later, developed a dry socket and was a major nuisance. Not really pain, just nuisance. Some people seem to have a lot of trouble with this and others don't. Had never thought about it being dancers or not though! Interesting.

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My two-years-ago experience now with Pain Management postop told me a lot about how dancers can sometimes surprise doctors.


I had been in for a modified Whipple operation, which has been described to me as the "brain surgery of belly surgery". Lucky I didn't know that preop! To make a long story shorter, they took a rock out of my common duct and just about replumbed me in there, leaving me with about a one-foot incision from bottom of sternum to top of navel. I was hooked up to a morphine sulfate pump, and I could get a slug of the dope every five minutes, if I wanted it.


Every day, the Pain Management doc, who I referred to as "the pusher" would come in, check how much ms I had taken and when, and then say, "Are you sure that you're getting enough of this stuff? Are you in any pain?"




"Well, give yourself some more ms, no need to suffer. Where is your pain level right now on a 1-10 scale?"


"About 2-3."


"Awk! When do you press the button?"


"When it gets to 7-8."


"And that doesn't seem to happen very often, or for very long."


"No, I take it when I need it, but not before."


"We have to study this. This is good, but practically unheard of. Keep up the good work!"


So there's my pain story. I told my docs and med students to observe at Harkness, just to see how dancers do recovery, and one came back just shaking her head, "Different freakin' world!" :wacko:

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A total differant breed. Totally forgot about DD's broken wrist...broke it figure skating, and didn't really complain till day 3.ooppss :wacko:

and only after dance teacher thought something was wrong! talk about feeling guilty as a parent......

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We have a wonderful picture of DD crossing the finish line of a road race two years ago as a very petite 10 year old with a big smile on her face. About 4 paces behind her is a 180 pound 16 year old boy with an expression of complete anguish.


As DD describes the race, the 16 year old kept sprinting past her then she would pass him jogging at her steady pace, he would sprint past and so on. DD said she had a very painful stitch that made her want to quit, but she didn't. As she neared the finish she saw the boy and she began to sprint. She said at that moment the pain went from unbareable to completely gone until she crossed the finish line and she realized it still hurt.


I think there is a mental strength in dancers (and succesful athletes) that surpasses pain.

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DD had minor surgery on her baby toe this past September. She had 6 stitches put in. Not once did she take anything for pain. (not even Tylenol!) I kept trying to give her something but she insisted it didn't hurt. She was back at barre one week later doing stretches, with the stitches in. :shrug: The stitches were to come out two weeks later. When dd found out her appointment would force her to miss her class, she removed the stitches herself. :green: I called her doctor and he just laughed and said he had a feeling she would do something like that. He was just glad she waited as long as she did! :wacko::wub: DD was back to class that day. She was smart, and didn't push it too much.

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I think at least with female ballet dancers a lot of pain tolerance training comes from dancing en pointe and through the blisters. I remember one performance I was dancing in Waltz of the Flowers, I felt a little pain probably one minute into it, and of course ignored it. By the time I got off stage at the end it still was just a little bit of pain but to my surprise blood was coming through my shoe.


We dancers are also conditioned that a little bit of pain here and there is okay (i.e. stretching, etc.), that it is okay to be on the uncomfortable side. I was trained to dance and never open my mouth; no matter how much I hurt. If you couldn’t dance through it then you didn’t want to be a dancer bad enough. No pain, no gain, right? Wrong in my opinion. The problem then lies as the dancer's pain thresh hold increases, what may be a little bit of pain may indicate a big problem that gets missed.

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A week ago my dd fell in dance class. Her foot hurt, but not a lot. We wrapped it and put ice on it. A few days later she had an audition and then a performance of the Sugar Plum Fairy on pointe. She said her foot hurt a little bit, nothing major. Yesterday, I was told by a doctor that my daughter had a broken foot though the audition and the pointe solo. My daughter and I looked at the doctor in shock. We never expected her foot to be broken. She never thought it hurt that much. She can not dance for a few weeks but will be alright just in time for Nutcracker. :)

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