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Exercising Regularly Might Improve Pain Tolerance

May 31, 2023 from Medscape


An article posted on Medscape explores new research which reveals that regular exercise may increase pain tolerance, which may have consequences for people who suffer from chronic pain.


Researchers observed that participants who consistently engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical exercise over the course of the 7- to 8-year study period reported the highest pain tolerance. The findings, however, also demonstrated that even light exercise was linked to improved pain tolerance.


According to lead researcher Anders Pedersen Arnes, research fellow and advisor at the University Hospital of North Norway, associated with the University of Troms, “there were indications that both total amount of physical activity over time, as well as the direction of change in activity level over time, matters to how high your pain tolerance is.” This observational study “indicates a potential relationship between increased physical activity and increased pain tolerance.”


Researchers used data from the prospective population-based Troms health research, a health survey that uses periodic polls of people of Northern Norway conducted since 1974. 10,732 people who responded to questionnaires in 2007–2008 and 2015–2016 were included in the study. Through surveys, biological samples, and clinical examinations, information on physical activity, experimental pain tolerance, sex, sociodemographic variables, and chronic pain was gathered.


The cold-pressor test (CPT), in which participants immerse their hand in chilly water for as long as possible, was used to gauge pain tolerance. For constant light, moderate, and strenuous activity over the two surveys, CPT tolerance was 7%, 14%, and 16% greater than in the inactive group.


According to Arnes, regular physical exercise during downtime is linked to a higher pain threshold. “Over time, any kind of activity is preferable to inactivity.” Additionally, although this discovery was not statistically significant, researchers discovered that sedentary individuals who reported more physical activity at follow-up also had higher pain tolerance than those who remained inactive.


With a 20.4-second longer performance in the cold-pressor test than persons who were continuously inactive (P .001; 95% CI, 13.7 – 27.1), people who regularly engaged in moderate-to-vigorous exercise were shown to have the highest pain tolerance. All individuals’ pain tolerance decreased over time, and there was no discernible variation in it between men and women.


“Results show that an increase in pain tolerance was associated with a positive change in physical activity level over time,” Arnes stated. “How much may depend on your overall level of activity; more seems to be better,”


According to Steven Cohen, MD, chief of pain medicine and professor of anesthesiology, neurology, physical medicine & rehabilitation, and psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, the study’s advantages include its lengthy follow-up and substantial patient population.


Cohen also stated that “this study examined the association between general physical activity levels and one type of acute pain, but data from other studies show a benefit for other types of pain.” All of this shows that people who are dealing with discomfort should exercise.


The results reveal a connection between exercise and pain tolerance, and previous studies have demonstrated evidence of a cause-and-effect connection, according to Cohen. More research is needed to identify the mechanisms that mediate these effects. He continued that there are still uncertainties on how exercise may affect pain tolerance or risk for chronic pain.


Researchers are currently embarking on a follow-up study to examine how exercise’s impact on pain tolerance may affect the chance of chronic pain.





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