Pain monitor torn in half on wooden desk

The Subjectivity and Relativity of Pain

When it comes to analyzing our pain, we consider both the subjectivity and relativity of that pain. A subjective view of pain is based on your personal opinions and experiences. An individual’s pain tolerance comes into play with the subjective viewpoint. This evaluates how painful the pain you are experiencing is compared to another person’s same experience. The relative view of pain means that we each suffer in our own way. We all have different pain experiences and pain tolerances.

What is a pain threshold?

An individual’s pain threshold is the amount of pain that they can reasonably tolerate. This is something that is completely subjective. Somebody with a high pain threshold will consider an injury less painful than somebody with a lower pain threshold. Due to this, doctors ask patients to rate their pain on a pain scale. For example, two people could have the same exact break in their ankle, one individual could consider the break to be a 9 on the pain scale, and the other person could consider that pain to be a 5.

Can pain tolerances change?

Our pains can be subjective due to how long we have been chronic, any other additional health issues we may have, and ultimately how much we are able to push through despite the pain. “Something that’s painful for one person may not be for another. Even from a medical standpoint, pain is subjective to the person experiencing it.”1 This is where the mind frame of not comparing your pain to somebody else’s pain comes from. This means you cannot tell me that your pain is worse than my pain, and I cannot tell you that your pain is less than my own. There is a psychosocial element to pain tolerance. The CEO of Morphic Therapeutic, Praveen Tipirneni explains that your “pain tolerance rises and falls depending on what’s happening in the rest of your life."1

How has my chronic migraine pain changed?

My personal pain tolerance has increased over the years. When my migraines initially became chronic, I could not function. My life was drastically affected. I have been living with chronic migraines for almost 12 years now. Most of the time I can function some during migraines. In addition to the migraines, I also have fibromyalgia, which forced me to adjust to a different kind of persistent pain.

How does age play a role?

It is typically understood that our pain tolerance increases with age. An example of this would be that a small pinch would hurt a baby much worse than that same pinch on an adult. This pain component is an example of relative pain. It is relative because a baby has very little, if any, pain experiences while an adult has several pain experiences to pull from.

A key thing to remember is that we all feel pain differently. It is also important to remember that even though an injury may seem minimal to you, it could be extremely painful to somebody else.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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