But for one Italian family, pain as the average human experiences it is utterly foreign. And a new study of the family, published this week in
, a neurology journal, pinpointed exactly why some members of the Italian clan are pain-free.
‘For one Italian family, pain is utterly foreign. Six members across three generations don’t experience pain — whether that be the hottest heat, the coldest cold or even a broken bone.’
Six relatives across three generations, including a 78-year-old woman, her two daughters, aged 52 and 50, and their two sons and one girl, aged 24, 21 and 16, respectively, have endured broken limbs and skin injuries without even noticing.
As the researchers would put it, the family has "a reduced capacity to detect tissue-damage causing stimuli." The family is otherwise normal, researchers said.
"Sometimes they feel pain in the initial break but it goes away very quickly," said Dr. James Cox, the lead author of the University College London research. Understanding the genetic quirk that gives the Italian family pain-free lives is a breakthrough that could, down the road, lead to new and improved therapies to manage chronic pain, Cox said in a statement.
University College London researchers estimated that one in 10 people suffer from "moderately to severely disabling chronic pain" — the kind of pain that stops being useful and starts being debilitating. That makes it particularly attractive to seek novel treatments for pain beyond common painkillers.