Central West Health & Rehabilitation
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Mal Chronique - Chronic Pain and Exercise; Evidence and Benefits Feb 19th, 2015
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Chronic pain involves symptoms of prolonged pain and fatigue, leading to an inactive lifestyle. However being inactive can increase your levels of pain and fatigue, leading to deconditioning of the body. Deconditioning can make you more prone to injury and put you at risk of more severe health problems.

Breaking the pain cycle can be difficult, especially if your body has been in pain for quite some time. Sometimes people feel their attempts at exercise cause more pain and lead to flare ups, avoiding exercise and turning to rest. Even if there is discomfort in the beginning, retraining your body and remaining active will be beneficial for your health and wellbeing in the long term. 

Best Evidence for Chronic Pain and Exercise

Exercise works best when delivered as part of a multi-factorial approach. This includes sound knowledge and education about your condition, physical activity and the pain experience. The body and mind love movement, where gradually becoming more active is essential for treating and managing chronic pain.  Recent evidence shows people with chronic pain reported moderate exercise decreases pain, fatigue, stress and symptoms. It also improved perceptions of health, physical function and aerobic fitness. Other studies have shown low intensity exercises such as walking and pool exercises improved joint and muscle pain, improving the ability to carry out daily activities.

Exercise-induced Hypoalgesia

Recent studies have shown exercise inhibits descending pathways. Descending pathways can inhibit or facilitate transmission of noxious (painful) information, and are therefore of major importance in pain modulation. Studies demonstrate a reduction in pain sensitivity during and following exercise, in both the healthy and chronic pain population.

Aerobic exercises (running, cycling etc) produce exercise-induced hypoalgesia, particularly when performed at moderate to high intensities for longer periods. This is also true for isometric exercises (static muscle contraction), when performed at either low or high intensities.

Benefits of Exercise

  • Joints become better lubricated and glide easier

  • Nerves and discs of the spine get their required nutrients

  • Muscles become stronger and fatigue less quickly

  • The nervous system winds down promoting relaxation

  • Increased levels of energy, improving mood and helping with anxiety and depression

  • Your body produces Endorphins - your own pain relieving medication!

  • Improves efficiency of the heart, controls blood sugar levels, and improves your ability to burn fat


Rhianne Turner (Physiotherapist)

Next - 7 exercise tips for people with chronic pain