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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