Fearing pain is reasonable, because it can really be agonizing. For example, orofacial pain (pain felt at the mouth and face) has very real consequences, even at the societal level: in the United States, costs due to orofacial pain (which include health care expenses, disability, and lost productivity) are over $4 billion each year. Now that hurts.
Do you feel like you’re suffering a major injury every time you get a little cut? Maybe things that other people find very painful don't bother you at all. Whether you are a bit of a wimp or you're impervious to pain can have a lot of real consequences on your life. Did you know that there may be a connection between genetics and pain? It may be that you really are more or less sensitive to pain. The difference between your perception of pain and someone else’s is partly in your genes and your anticipation of pain. Pain genetics can reveal surprising information about how much of your reaction to pain is hereditary.
While the fear of pain originates from the mind, it may also be in your genes: one previous study has shown that the fear of pain is more than 30% heritable. In a genome-wide association study, it was found that several gene loci were associated with the fear of minor pain, near genes like the transmembrane protein 65 (TMEM65). This gene is particularly interesting because it is associated with musculoskeletal pain (pain due to muscle and bone injury) in humans and neuropathic pain (pain caused by nerve damage) in rats. Read more about the study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28701861
Much of our experience of pain is due to our fear of anticipated pain. That’s why people so often flinch when the alcohol pad is applied before a shot. Therefore, this study, which reveals a genetic predisposition for fear of pain, is also extremely valuable for understanding how we experience pain. It may not be that the same injury actually hurts more or less for two people, but that one is more likely to fear the pain and therefore respond more strongly to it.
This aspect of pain genetics is fascinating both because of its potential for future research and because it has applications now. People who tend to be more fearful of pain and experience pain more strongly who learn they have a gene that predisposes them to it may be better able to overcome their fear and actually reduce their experience of pain.
Meditation exercises have long revealed that the mind is, in fact, capable of reducing how severely we experience pain. Knowing that there is a connection between your genetics and pain can empower you to handle pain better than you have before. On the other hand, learning that your pain genetics tend to make you indifferent to pain can help you understand your risk-taking behavior. It can also help you comprehend why you may thrive in more high-risk environments where injuries, both small and large, aren't uncommon.
Are you genetically predisposed to fear pain? Go on Genomelink to find out.