Is It Pain Or Is It Discomfort?

Is It Pain Or Is It Discomfort?

In a visit to the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis, we used the word ‘pain’ when describing athletes who push themselves 100% during competition.

The assembled group of academic researchers collectively recoiled, shaking their heads at our inappropriate choice of words.

Athletes do not feel pain. They feel discomfort,” was the consensus.

When I am doing any event, whether it is a 200-meter butterfly, a 5K run or
cycling as hard as I can against the wind and up a hill, I feel pain
,” we explained as we recalled personal bouts of pain in training.

That is not pain. That is discomfort,” instructed the assembled academics who smiled at our lack of sophistication and knowledge of physiology.

Well, it sure feels painful,” we said in our defense, clearly not
understanding the nuance of the word. “And most athletes feel the same way as we do, at least we think so,” as we started to doubt our own choice of words and sense that the Ph.D.s were clearly intent on not losing this battle against someone with no initials behind their name.

You are not feeling pain. That is discomfort and you must use the proper terminology. You are not utilizing pain receptors. If you cut your leg, that is pain. What you feel in an athletic contests is not pain.”

When my lungs are screaming for air, when my stomach feels tight, when my thighs are burning with lactate, when my heart feels like it is going to burst, I just assumed I was feeling pain. But, my choice of words clearly pain you because I can see it written all on your faces,” we said trying to loosen up the atmosphere.

No one smiled. No one breathed. No one moved.

OK. I agree. I do not feel pain. It is discomfort. Cool,” we relinquished to the satisfaction of the group who had clearly won a discussion with a contemporary version of Neanderthals.

Later, in the hallways, we disclosed, “We bet none of those professors ever did the English Channel or a tough 25K race.”

It was an interesting discussion, but we understand the interpretation of the unpleasant feelings and sensations felt by athletes will be debated and discussed for many more decades by researchers who get paid to study these issues.

Copyright © 2010 by World Open Water Swimming Association