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Does Exercise Reduce Chronic Pain?


Exercise has many benefits, including promoting better cardiovascular health, stronger immune system, better flexibility, and improved mental health. For people living with chronic pain, exercise may play an important part in their quality of life. Even moderate regular exercise can reduce pain for some people living with discomfort. Although there has been some research into the relationship between exercise and pain, the existing body of evidence is limited.

Therefore, Tormod Landmark of the Department of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology recently conducted a study involving over 6,000 individuals to determine the short-term and long-term effects of exercise on pain symptoms.

For the study, Landmark assessed the level of pain experienced by participants at five different points in time over the course of a year. The participants reported on their frequency and level of exercise and also their severity of symptoms immediately after the exercise and over time.

Landmark discovered that although exercise appeared to decrease pain in the short-term, there was only a weak association between exercise and long-term pain reduction. Additionally, this association was stronger in men and did not appear as significant for women. Interestingly, the participants engaged in higher levels of exercise when they experienced lower levels of pain and therefore, also reported low levels of pain as a result of exercise engagement.

Landmark believes that this close time relationship between exercise and pain may provide insight into the cause and effect dynamic at work. “That is, a lower level of exercise may be both a risk for and a consequence of pain.” In other words, people will exercise more when they feel less pain, but more pain causes less exercise which can lead to increases in pain. Despite the fact that this study shows the bidirectional relationship between pain and exercise, the associations are weak and need to be explored further in future work.

Landmark, T., Romundstad, P.R., Borchgrevink, P.C., Kaasa, S., Dale, O. (2013). Longitudinal associations between exercise and pain in the general population – The HUNT Pain Study. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65279. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065279

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  • rock June 26th, 2013 at 12:40 PM #1

    Reduce long term pain? I don’t believe that! For me it only ups the pain levels!

  • BryaN June 26th, 2013 at 10:37 PM #2

    What about physiotherapy?that is a form of exercise and is used to treat pain!

    Exercise can certainly help pain.I have experienced that myself.

    Letting up on it could make things worse and this study points in the same direction.

  • Donna June 27th, 2013 at 4:02 AM #3

    I wouldn’t want this to discourage anyone from adding more exercise into their daily lives. Exercise is a stress reliever, a pain reliever, and also a little bit of a mental health therapy session. These things can’t be discounted just ebcause it may or may not help with chronic pain. And look at all of the painful rehab that must be done after joint replacement surgeries and things like that. Don’t you think that this kind of exercise causes pain, but is amking a tremendous difference in someone’s life in the long run? You tell too many people that ecercise does nothing to alleviate that, and we are going to have even more of a health crisis on our hands.

  • Zyg June 27th, 2013 at 12:04 PM #4

    Exercise absolutely reduces chronic pain. Do the right exercise. Bike, walk, elyptical, yoga, stretching, weights, and exercises taught in physical therapy all target areas of the body to strengthen. Stretching is also necessary. When immobile you feel less pain, but move and you hurt. Mexercise helps to build strength and flexibility in supporting structures so when you move it does not hurt.

  • Colorado Mind & Body Counseling August 22nd, 2013 at 11:01 AM #5

    I agree Zyg. It does depend on the type of exercise and pain, but I’ve always found a steady exercise and stretching regimen is tremendously helpful for chronic pain.

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