It wasn't too long ago that doctors used to recommend plenty of rest and inactivity to patients dealing with chronic pain. That is beginning to change. Why? Because we are learning more about the relationship between exercise and pain. We are discovering that using exercise to manage pain can have a positive impact on chronic pain.
Pain clinics, like ours, are generally willing to look at anything that might help patients. How about you? Would you be willing to try using exercise as one tool to manage pain? If so, don't be afraid to bring it up with your doctor.
Pain is one of the most studied conditions in history. Over the years, researchers have looked at it from just about every angle. Studies have recently begun focusing on the relationship between exercise and pain perception.
A 2020 study conducted by researchers in Belgium and Australia suggests a positive relationship between appropriate exercise and better pain management. The study was a meta-analysis of 15 previous studies looking into pain syndromes and exercise training.
Here are the three takeaways from that study:
To summarize, researchers concluded that appropriate exercises have a positive impact by increasing a patient's tolerance and making the patient less sensitive to pain perception. Exercises targeted to the local source of pain seem to work better than a broader approach.
As pain management doctors, we can think of several reasons exercise might help certain types of patients. For instance, consider a patient suffering from debilitating osteoarthritis.
No doubt osteoarthritis can be a very painful condition. Many patients find it so painful that they avoid unnecessary activity. Unfortunately, remaining sedentary weakens the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support bone structures. This can actually increase pain.
Exercises designed to strengthen the muscles ultimately end up improving joint support. With more support from surrounding tissue, arthritic bones do not create so much pain.
Another possible explanation is something will call the endorphin effect. It is well-known that exercise encourages the release of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are partly responsible for inducing feelings of pleasure.
It could be that increased endorphin production helps minimize pain perception. The fact that endorphins are known in medical science as one of the brain's natural pain relievers surely lends credence to this line of thinking.
Let's not forget that exercise tends to improve health overall. Even people who don't experience chronic pain benefit from exercise. Regular exercise helps improve metabolism, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve diabetes symptoms, and on and on.
It stands to reason that if exercise improves overall health, better health will lead to at least some measure of pain relief. But again, pain perceptions are different from one person to the next. There are no guarantees.
One key thing to remember here is that exercises should be chosen based on the root cause of a patient's pain and their overall health. Not every type of exercise is appropriate for every type of pain. Our advice is to talk to your doctor about the possibility of adding exercise to your routine.
Feel free to ask our pain doctors about exercise when you visit. If it can help you feel better, why not give it a try? It is hard to go wrong with a little bit of daily exercise that keeps you active and fit.