Obese people are equally more susceptible to extremes of hot and cold.
Dr Osama Tashani, a senior researchers at Leeds Beckett University said: “It could be the case that a person who is more sensitive to pain is less likely to do physical activity and therefore more likely to gain weight and become obese.”
They study showed the differences in pain response between different groups of people.
Obesity: People wih a high BMI are more likely to have a low pain threshold
The team investigated 74 volunteers, categorised as obese, overweight or normal according to their body mass index (BMI) – a standard way of measuring if a person is at a healthy weight for their height.
Volunteers in each group had pressure, cold and heat applied to two different areas of the body.
The first experiment tested the hand, at the base of the thumb, an area that has little body fat.
The second measured responses near the waist, in an area where extra fat is stored. Participants were asked to report at what point the pressure, cold or heat first felt painful.
Obesity: Obese people are more likely to experience pain of weight on joints
In the obese group, volunteers reported feeling pain from pressures equivalent to around 4.3kg per square centimetre, while those in the group with normal BMI reported pain at about 8.6kg per square centimetre.
The middle group, those classed as overweight, had a slightly higher pressure pain threshold than the normal group, with pain being reported at 10kg per square centimetre.
In terms of response to hot and cold temperatures, there was no significant difference across any of the groups, when tested at the waist.
Obesity: People with a low pressure pain threshold are more likely to become obese
But our study suggests that even in areas of the body which are not bearing weight, obese people are more susceptible to pressure pain
“Obese people are more likely to experience pain from factors such as the mechanical impact of increased weight on joints than people with a normal BMI,” said Dr Tashani.
“But our study suggests that even in areas of the body which are not bearing weight, obese people are more susceptible to pressure pain.”
“The overweight group had the highest pressure pain threshold, which might be because there were more people in this group taking part in physical activities, which could also affect how a person feels pain.”
The results, published in the European Journal of Pain, show that obese people are likely to have the lowest pressure pain threshold – but it could also suggest that those with a low pressure pain threshold are more likely to become obese.