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Pain and athletes: Contact sport participation and performance in pain

Sheffield, D, Thornton, C and Jones, MV ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2999-3942 (2020) Pain and athletes: Contact sport participation and performance in pain. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 49. ISSN 1469-0292

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Abstract

© 2020 Elsevier Ltd Objectives: This study examined the effect of cold pressor pain on performance in high-contact athletes, low-contact athletes and non-athletes. Design: A three-group between-subjects experimental design was used. Method: Seventy-one participants completed a motor task and a cognitive task of different complexity (easy or hard) both in pain and not in pain. The motor task involved participants throwing a tennis ball at numbered targets in the correct order. In the cognitive task, participants were required to check off the numbers one to twenty-five in the correct order from a grid of randomly ordered numbers. Task difficulty was increased by adding dummy targets (motor task) or extra numbers (cognitive task). Results: Cold pressor pain was rated as less intense by high-contact athletes during both tasks compared to low-contact athletes and non-athletes. High-contact athletes’ performance was not hampered by pain on the motor task, whereas it was in low-contact athletes and non-athletes. However, pain did not hamper performance for any group during the cognitive task. Low-contact and non-athletes did not differ from each other in their pain reports or the degree to which their performance was hampered by pain in either task. Conclusions: This study provides evidence that adaptation to pain through participation in high-contact sports can enhance both pain tolerance generally and motor performance specifically under increases in pain. The mechanisms behind these differences warrant further exploration.

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