PAIN IN CHILDBIRTH SERIES: Pain Threshold vs. Pain Tolerance #BITESIZEDBIRTHCLASS

It’s time for #BiteSizedBirthClass, where each week I give you a little taste of the topics I cover in my childbirth education series.

We are going to start off with the concept of pain in labor and birth. It’s the first thing almost every client asks me - “What does labor actually feel like? Does it hurt as much as everyone says?” The answer is that it’s all relative, because of a concepts called pain threshold and pain tolerance.

 
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What is Pain Threshold?

Imagine you are at a wedding. You’re at the cocktail hour, where the guests are all standing around and chatting. You realize you have a rock in your shoe. It would be inappropriate to remove your shoe in front of all the guests to try to get the rock out, so you decide to deal with it. At first, it’s just bothersome, but gradually it begins to actually hurt you. That transition from annoyance to painful is called pain threshold. Pain thresholds are different from person to person, but each person’s individual pain threshold is hard-wired in us and is unlikely to change.

What is Pain Tolerance?

Pain tolerance, on the other hand, is how much pain you can handle. If the rock in your shoe becomes so painful that you stop caring about etiquette and rip off your shoe to get it out, you have reached the end of your maximum pain tolerance. Pain tolerance is similar to pain threshold in that each person’s individual tolerance level will be different. However, a person’s pain tolerance can be increased - allowing the person to tolerate more pain - by using coping techniques. Maybe you find a place to sit, so the feeling of the rock in your shoe isn’t quite as pronounced. Maybe you try to focus harder on your conversations, or distract yourself by listening to the music.


Applications in Childbirth

A person in labor is likely to eventually reach their pain threshold. Labor is hard work, and hard work can sometimes be painful. But when we use comfort measures and coping techniques (like massage, visualization, relaxation, or hydrotherapy, to name a few) we can increase our pain tolerance levels so that medical pain relief is not necessary if it is not desired.

That’s all for this week’s #BiteSizedBirthClass! Are you interested in learning more about pain theory as it applies to labor and birth? Do you feel like you may need a little extra help increasing your pain tolerance? Contact me to discuss how you might benefit from childbirth education classes and/or labor doula support! I’d love to help you reach your goals for birth.