We generally find pain unpleasant. But some people really enjoy a strong sore muscle or biting chili heat on the tongue. How does this happen?
For Hendrik Garbers, pain is a good friend. The 44-year-old from Lüneburg has already taken part in an Ironman triathlon four times; personal best time: 9 hours 20 minutes. He always suffered, sometimes more, sometimes less. "During competition, the whole body is under pressure," he says. "Your lungs are on fire, your muscles are getting hard. Nothing really hurts as long as you don't overdo it. But you're always on the verge of it."
Garbers is not alone in his hobby. The German Triathlon Union, the official umbrella organization for athletes, has almost 60,000 members. A similar number of people ran a marathon here in Germany in 2019. Endurance sports are obviously very popular. But why do you do that? Why do athletes demand high performance from themselves until it hurts? In general, why do so many people voluntarily expose themselves to painful situations-whether exercising, eating spicy curry, or having sex?
Pain fulfills an important function as a warning signal for our body. He instantly draws attention to the hand that's grasping the hot stove or the thumb that's been struck by the hammer. In addition, the sensation encourages us to draw conclusions from the experience. First of all, by eliminating the cause as quickly as possible, for example by pulling your hand away from the heat source, before the tissue is seriously damaged. And then by avoiding the situation that triggered it in the future - for example, being more careful when cooking.
The level of suffering from a pain stimulus can differ from person to person and even from situation to situation. The neuropsychologist Susanne Becker from the Balgrist University Clinic at the University of Zurich speaks of pain as a multidimensional sensation. Its sensory component tells us where it hurts and how bad. Its emotional-motivational part, on the other hand, determines how we react to the signal. Sometimes you would do anything to get rid of the pain quickly. Other times you might not find them so bad or even endure them quite well…