Exercise can help people tolerate pain
Exercising on a regular basis may change how a person experiences and tolerates pain and discomfort, according to a new study.
Scientists at the University of New South Wales and Neuroscience Research Australia in Sydney recruited 24 young adults; 12 expressed interest in exercising and the other 12 had similar activity levels but preferred not to exercise. The researchers then tested reaction to pain by probing each participant's arm with increasing pressure until the volunteers reached their pain threshold and told the researchers to stop. The researchers also tested the participants' baseline pain tolerance by tightening a blood pressure cuff around the upper arm and asking them to squeeze the device for as long as possible.
Next, the 12 volunteers who expressed interest in exercising began a program of moderate stationary bicycling for 30 minutes, three times a week, for six weeks. The other 12 volunteers continued living as they had before the study began. After the six weeks, all of the volunteers returned to the lab and the researchers retested their pain thresholds and pain tolerances.
The researchers found that the control group participants showed no changes in their responses to the pain tests. Those who completed the exercise program, however, showed an increased ability to withstand pain. Their pain thresholds did not change--meaning that they began to feel pain at the same point as before--but they were able to bear more pain for a longer amount of time.
The results of the study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, suggest that sticking with a regular exercise program may result in less physical discomfort over time, researchers said. They added that a regular exercise program may also benefit people with chronic pain, as long as they receive permission from their doctor.