My tolerance to pain isn’t the same everywhere on the body

When my left side had EDS problems, I noticed its difference from my right

Karen Del Vecchio avatar

by Karen Del Vecchio |

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One thing I know for sure is that I have a much higher pain tolerance than most people. I guess that’s probably true for most people who manage chronic pain. They either learn to deal with it as best they can or they can’t function.

What I didn’t consider until recently, however, is that I could have different tolerances for pain in various parts of my body.

My right shoulder is a mess. Since a bad soccer injury as a teenager broke my collarbone, dislocated my shoulder, tore my trapezius muscle, and damaged just about everything else nearby, I’ve dealt with reduced range of motion and pain. It was significantly worse before my diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) at age 22. No one could understand why my shoulder not only wasn’t healing properly, but also seemed to get worse with more physical therapy and use.

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Sometimes anti-inflammatories are my best option to manage pain

In the seven years or so between my original injury and my EDS diagnosis, I had no other choice but to deal with it as best I could. The pain was awful, and at its worst, my range of motion was about 20% to 25% of what it should’ve been.

Over time, the pain started to feel like an annoying fly buzzing around the room. I knew it was there, and if it landed on me I’d be annoyed for a moment, but then I’d brush it off and continue to ignore it until it landed on me again. That’s the best way I can think to describe it. Eventually, I learned to mentally block out the pain.

The variance in where I can tolerate pain

My right shoulder can now handle just about anything. Tough bodywork? No problem. Physical therapy? Sure. Doing what needs to be done around the house? Yep. I just swat the fly away and do what I need to do as best I can. But when my left side flared up recently, I realized I don’t have the same level of pain tolerance there as I do on my right side.

I’d never considered that such tolerance could be region-specific. I suppose I always assumed it was an overall feeling that varies from person to person but not necessarily within a person. But at least for me, it can. I don’t know how, but I know the pain in my left shoulder isn’t anywhere nearly as bad as the pain I’ve experienced in my right one, yet the left side bothers me much more.

I suppose that when I think about it, it makes sense. The nerves that respond to my right shoulder are of course different from the ones on my left. I’ve apparently learned to ignore or downplay the pain signals from certain nerves that get “overused,” but that gift doesn’t translate to other nerves as easily.

Granted, I can still largely ignore the pain in my left shoulder (or wherever else) and push through anyway, but it’s easier to do that for my right shoulder. Learning to manage chronic pain is simply life with EDS.

Despite managing that pain my whole life — even if half of it was without a specific diagnosis — I’m still constantly recognizing new patterns and symptoms. I suppose that’s a perfect example of how you learn something new every day!

Do you notice you’re less tolerant of pain in some areas of your body? Please let me know in the comments below.

Note: Ehlers-Danlos News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ehlers-Danlos News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Ehlers-Danlos.


ZebraMel avatar


Very helpful article. I recently had an ER visit where the doc wrote in my chart that he essentially thought I was “faking it” because he didn’t feel I “looked” like I was in as much pain as I was reporting. This felt devastating to read because like you write, a lot of us have built up a tolerance and have learned to cope with pain, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gone or not bad. After all, most people in pain don’t spend 24/7 doubled-over in agony and crying out. After my diagnosis, I contacted the medical records department and am going to work on applying for my records to be updated with my diagnosis, symptoms, etc. and my hope if that I will be treated better if I have to go in again, especially because I’ve had several life-threatening surgeries that can only be diagnosed with emergent CT scan. Anyway, thanks again for sharing!

Mischa Brown avatar

Mischa Brown

This is a very interesting observation. Now that you mention it, I think that describes why “new” pain can be much harder to handle at the time.

Tamara Nayak avatar

Tamara Nayak

Funny you mention that, but I still have confusion about the whole thing. I couldn't feel labor with any of my 5 children (went when my water broke). Didn't feel any pain when my gallbladder went bad (took months to figure out it was my gallbladder because of no pain. Took other symptoms and an ultrasound to figure it out). Don't take any pain medications after surgeries because they either don't work when I do have pain or I don't feel enough pain to warrant taking them. Most recently 3 months post op on my shoulder including bicep reattachment (no need for pain control after it either) I was at therapy and felt a painful pop that quickly went to a dull pain and continued therapy. Three weeks later at my 2nd post op I learned my bicep tore off completely along with a slap injury... Yet when I had my foot surgeries they were excruciating... None of it makes sense and I can't help, but wonder is this too an EDS thing? I could go on and on with examples, but I assume you understand what I'm saying and going through.

Elsy Kay avatar

Elsy Kay

I love your posts! In each one I recognize myself. I find that a new pain is much less tolerable than one I've had for years. Over time, I know the new pain will fade into my humming pain background and there will be yet another new pain to address.

Melissa Cox avatar

Melissa Cox

I have noticed that I can completely ignore the pain in my back and my knees, as well as mild to moderate headaches. If I think about them, I realize it's there, but then I can dismiss it and go on. I've had chronic knee pain (total of 9 knee surgeries between the 2 knees), back pain, and migraines for about 25 years now. Recently, however, I've been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, and I find it much more difficult to ignore the pain in my hands and feet, which I've only had for about 12-18 months. I've recently started treatment for the PsA, so hopefully that pain will get better soon. Our bodies are amazing, and it's a bit crazy how we learn to cope! - Mel

Alison Guyton avatar

Alison Guyton

Thank you Karen for taking the time to share your life! I can relate to just about every post you write! Although my kids and I are not diagnosed yet, it is VERY highly suspected and a matter of finding the right dr, in network, etc. I think for me, some of the difference in “pain tolerance” from one side vs the other, is actual nerve damage. The areas I have that have had repeatedly been “tore up”, I seem to be able to just tell it to shut up and move on. Or most the time, tell it to shut up so I can go to sleep, since I got into a “comfortable”, haha, position.


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