Why we pay for extreme pain

written by Meena Azzollini

Woman crawling under a barbed wire in a race (Farinto).


We have all experienced physical pain of some kind or the other and we often reach for painkillers to help us deal with it. Pain is an integral facet of life and the thought of enduring pain itself is incomprehensible.

And yet there are people who will pay to endure pain inducing experiences such as obstacle races with extremely painful challenges that induce intense physical pain and exhaustion.

But why do people do that?

On one had they are reaching out for painkillers and medication to soothe their pain and on the other hand they seek extremely painful leisure pursuits.

Extreme pain endured during this challenge helps the Mudders deal with reduce physicality brought on by their office life.

To understand this confounding behaviour, researchers studied a popular gruelling adventure challenge called Tough Mudder, where participants subject themselves to electric shocks, fire, and freezing water.

This challenge involves a series of 25 military style obstacles which must be overcome in half a day, which involves running through burning hay bales, wading through torrents of mud, sliding through tightly enclosed spaces, plunging seven feet into freezing water and even crawling through 10,000 volts of electric wires. Injuries have included spinal damage, strokes, heart attacks, and even death.

Despite, this and being warned by the company about potential injuries, over 2.5 million men and women had entered the challenge in September 2016. They were not even discouraged by the hefty entrance fee of $140.

Through extensive interviews with the Mudders, the scientists found that they entered this kind of challenge for various reasons: they prefer to participate in a team rather than in isolation of other endurance events like triathlons, they like to add this distinctive experience to their list of achievements and they are drawn to the primitive qualities of challenging their bodies with various elements.

Extreme pain endured during this challenge helps the Mudders deal with reduced physicality brought on by their office life. These adventures allow the participants to free themselves from the monotony of everyday life by engaging their mind and their focus on an event which is intense providing them with a distinct form of regeneration.

The pain endured brings their body into sharp focus and is a powerful way to remind participants of their corporeality.

In addition the pain provides an escape from reality and a relief from the burden of constant self-actualization felt by knowledge workers who are in jobs spent on a desk in front of a computer.

The resultant marks and bruises and the experience of pain makes us create a story of a fulfilled life which is spent exploring the limits of our body.  Fulfilled life to some also means exploring the various limits and potential of their physical self and by participating in such extreme events, they are definitely doing that.

Source: Journal of Consumer Research

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Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!