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Threshold of pain

threshold of pain, threshold of pain decibels
The threshold of pain or pain threshold is the point along a curve of increasing perception of a stimulus at which pain begins to be felt It is an entirely subjective phenomenon A distinction must be maintained between the stimulus an external thing that can be directly measured, such as with a thermometer and the person's or animal's resulting pain perception an internal, subjective thing that can sometimes be measured indirectly, such as with a visual analog scale Although an IASP document defines "pain threshold" as "the minimum intensity of a stimulus that is perceived as painful",1 it then goes on to say contradictorily in letter although not in spirit that:1

Traditionally the threshold has often been defined, as we defined it formerly, as the least stimulus intensity at which a subject perceives pain Properly defined, the threshold is really the experience of the patient, whereas the intensity measured is an external event It has been common usage for most pain research workers to define the threshold in terms of the stimulus, and that should be avoided The stimulus is not pain qv and cannot be a measure of pain

Although the phrasing may not convey it perfectly, the distinction clearly meant is the aforementioned one between the stimulus and the perception of it The intensity at which a stimulus eg, heat, pressure begins to evoke pain is thus called by a separate term, threshold intensity1 So, if a hotplate on a person's skin begins to hurt at 42°C 107°F, that is the pain threshold temperature for that bit of skin at that time It is not the pain threshold which is internal/subjective but the temperature at which the pain threshold was crossed which is external/objective

The intensity at which a stimulus begins to evoke pain varies from individual to individual and for a given individual over time


  • 1 Heat
  • 2 Hearing
  • 3 See also
  • 4 References


The temperature at which heat becomes painful for a recipient is called the heat pain threshold for that person at that time One study showed that morning oriented people have higher pain threshold for heat as compared to evening oriented individuals2


The pressure at which sound becomes painful for a listener is the pain threshold pressure for that person at that time The threshold pressure for sound varies with frequency and can be age-dependent People who have been exposed to more noise/music usually have a higher threshold pressure3 Threshold shift can also cause threshold pressure to vary4 Prolonged exposure to sound at levels evoking pain can cause physical damage, potentially leading to hearing impairment

The volume in acoustics refers to loudness It is a common term for the amplitude of sound or the sound pressure level Different values for pain threshold pressure level and pain threshold pressure are found in the literature:564

Threshold of Pain
Sound pressure level Sound pressure
120 dBSPL 20 Pa
130 dBSPL 63 Pa
134 dBSPL 100 Pa
1375 dBSPL 150 Pa
140 dBSPL 200 Pa

See alsoedit

  • Absolute threshold of hearing
  • Dolorimeter – an instrument used to measure pain threshold
  • Exposure action value
  • Phon
  • Sone
  • DBA


  1. ^ a b c IASP "IASP Pain Terminology" IASP Press Retrieved 2013-12-15 
  2. ^ Jankowski, KS 2014 Morning types are less sensitive to pain than evening types all day long European Journal of Pain, 17, 1068–1073
  3. ^ Truax, Barry 1999 "Handbook for Acoustic Ecology" 2 ed ARC Publications, World Soundscape Project, Simon Fraser University 
  4. ^ a b Franks, John R; Stephenson, Mark R; Merry, Carol J, eds June 1996 Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss - A Practical Guide PDF National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health p 88 Retrieved 2009-07-15 the threshold for pain is between 120 and 140 dB SPL 
  5. ^ Newman, Edwin B 1972-01-01 "Speech and Hearing" American Institute of Physics handbook New York: McGraw-Hill pp 3–155 ISBN 007001485X The upper limit for a tolerable intensity of sound rises substantially with increasing habituation Moreover, a variety of subjective effects are reported, such as discomfort, tickle, pressure, and pain, each at a slightly different level As a simple engineering estimate it can be said that naive listeners reach a limit at about 125 dB SPL and experienced listeners at 135 to 140 dB 
  6. ^ Nave, Carl R 2006 "Threshold of Pain" HyperPhysics SciLinks Retrieved 2009-06-16 A nominal figure for the threshold of pain is 130 decibels Some sources quote 120 dB as the pain threshold 

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Threshold of pain

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