Chronic Exercise, a Treatment for Chronic Pain?
If you or someone you love suffers from chronic pain, you undoubtedly understand the frustration of trying to find even just a hint of temporary relief. Current research on exercise and those living with chronic pain in conjunction with the findings of a recent pain study in Australia may be able to offer a glimmer of hope to those who experience little relief from current methods of treatment.
Pain Tolerance Increases with Aerobic Exercise
A group of researchers from the School of Medicine at the University of New South Wales andNeuroscience Research Australia recently published an article in the ACSM’s Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise detailing the relationship they discovered between chronic aerobic training and increases in pain tolerance.
Not only is consistent aerobic exercise associated with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and weight-loss and maintenance, but there is now evidence to say that your heart taxing activity of choice may increase your sensitivity to pain.
In the Australian study, healthy individuals were asked to perform 30 minutes of cycling, 3 days a week, at vigorous intensity (75% of maximal oxygen consumption reserve). Significant improvement in aerobic fitness and ischemic pain tolerance were observed after only 6 weeks from initiation of training. That means dedicating only 1 1/2 hours a week to aerobic activity can increase fitness and pain tolerance!
Though the study was focused on healthy individuals, it is very likely that further studies will be initiated to determine if the results are similar for those suffering from chronic pain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia. A break through in the treatment of chronic pain would be monumental, especially if it only takes 2% of your day 3 days a week!
However, future studies would only be adding to the pool of evidence that exercise is absolutely necessary and advantageous for everyone, particularly those with arthritis. It appears counter-intuitive for those with joint pain to increase activity including those joints, but the research is clear that proper exercise is beneficial.
Benefits of Exercise for Those with Arthritis
In fact, the American College of Rheumatology HIGHLY RECOMMENDS appropriate and regular physical activity for everyone, especially those with arthritis in its varying forms. This recommendation is based on the fact that, “Long-term studies have shown that people with inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can benefit from moderate intensity, weight-bearing activity. ”
- Benefits of Exercise for those with Rheumatoid Arthritis:
- Less bone loss
- Less small-joint damage
- No increase in pain
- No increase in disease activity
Programs combining strengthening and aerobic exercise are recommended for those with osteoarthritis (OA). “Regular moderate exercise even has been found to improve cartilage health in individuals at risk for developing knee OA.” Exercise can improve musculature in the thigh (quadriceps), which can help prevent knee OA from developing due to weak quadriceps, a risk factor for knee OA.
- Benefits of Exercise for those with Osteoarthritis:
- Reduced symptoms
- Improved joint motion
- Improved joint function
- Enhanced coordination & balance
- Controlled body weight
The research is clear; those with chronic pain will benefit from regular exercise, and the hope for new methods of relief from chronic pain is on the horizon. As we look forward to new research demonstrating the effectiveness of exercise in the reduction of chronic pain, we can be active, knowing that those who exercise have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Increased pain tolerance would simply be frosting on the cake. If you are living with chronic pain and do not currently participate in regular activity, don’t wait any longer to start reaping the benefits of regular exercise.
For more on exercise and arthritis, visit www.rheumatology.org or ask one of our certified trainers for help developing a suitable program to address your specific needs in this area.
Jones, MD, Booth J, Taylor JL, Barry, BK.
Meeus, M., Hermans, L., Ickmans, K., Struyf, F., Van Cauwenbergh, D., Bronckaerts, L. , De Clerck, L. S., Moorken, G., Hans, G., Grosemans, S. and Nijs, J. (2014), Endogenous Pain Modulation in Response to Exercise in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Comorbid Fibromyalgia, and Healthy Controls: A Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial. Pain Practice. doi: 10.1111/papr.12181
Westby, Marie, BSc. PT. “Exercise and Arthritis.” American College of Rheumatology, 2012. https://www.rheumatology.org/Practice/Clinical/Patients/Diseases_And_Conditions/Exercise_and_Arthritis/