Exercise of any amount could help increase pain tolerance, a new study finds


June 4, 2023 | 6:49

To the long list of benefits of physical activity,researchers just added one more thing: an increased ability to manage pain.

A recent study published in the journal PLOS One found that regular exercise is an effective way to reduce or prevent chronic pain without the use of medication.

The main point is that engaging in regular leisure-time physical activity appears to be connected with your pain tolerance: The more active you are, the higher your tolerance is likely to be, Anders Pedersen rnes, lead author at the University Hospital of North Norway, he told Fox News Digital in an email.

The researchers analyzed a sample of 10,732 participants from the Troms Study, the largest population study in Norway.

Participants filled out questionnaires to report their level of physical activity (sedentary, light, moderate, or vigorous).

Pain tolerance was measured using the cold pressure test (CPT), which is when people’s hands are immersed in ice water between 32 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit to see how long they can take it.

The study was repeated twice, seven to eight years apart.

In evaluating the results, the researchers found that for both shifts, any level of activity was better than being sedentary in terms of pain tolerance.

Second, there were indications that both the total amount of physical activity over time, and the direction of change in activity level over time, [impacts] how high is your pain tolerance, rnes said.

The higher the total activity level, the higher the person’s pain tolerance.

It doesn’t matter if you train as vigorously as the IRONMAN competitors or just take it easy.
Getty Images for Ironman

We found large effects for more active versus less active participants, close to an average tolerance of 60 seconds for the sedentary group versus a tolerance of more than 80 seconds for the most active participants, rnes said.

The researchers were surprised to find that the results were consistent for those already suffering from chronic pain.

Chronic pain didn’t appear to diminish the effect of physical activity on pain tolerance, which appeared just as strong for those with pain as for those without, rnes said.

Another surprise was that no difference was observed between women and men.

We expected to see smaller effects for women, but that wasn’t the case, the researcher said.

This was an observational study, rnes pointed out, the researchers were looking at the averages for groups of the general population.

Also, because exercise levels were self-reported, there was the potential for some degree of bias or inaccuracy.

We wouldn’t use these findings to predict pain tolerance for small clinical subpopulations, he said.

This wasn’t the first research to examine the relationship between exercise and pain tolerance.

In a 2017 study by Southeastern Louisiana University, published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 24 college-age students had a higher pain threshold after participating in two sessions of strength training and circuit training.

During 2021, nearly 21 percent of U.S. adults (51.6 million people) experienced chronic pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And in 2020, an Australian study published in the BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders journal evaluated nearly 600 participants suffering from chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Those who engaged in regular aerobic physical activity, including walking or cycling, experienced higher pain thresholds, Monash University researchers found.

Though more research is needed, rnes said findings from the recent Norwegian study determined that any additional activity could help improve pain tolerance, which has been suggested to protect against chronic pain.

You don’t have to perform like a top-level athlete to reap the benefits, he added.

The most important thing is that you do something about it and increasing your level of physical activity could do you a lot of good.

During 2021, nearly 21 percent of U.S. adults (51.6 million people) experienced chronic pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In addition to increased pain tolerance, regular physical activity has many other benefits.

These include weight management, improved heart health, lower risk of cancer, stronger bones and muscles, increased longevity and increased ability to perform daily functions, according to the CDC.

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