In 2023, a study conducted by researchers from UiT The Arctic University of Norway, the University Hospital of North Norway (UNN), and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health discovered that among a sample of over 10,000 adults, those who engaged in physical activity exhibited a higher tolerance for pain compared to their sedentary counterparts. Furthermore, they observed a correlation between increased activity levels and elevated pain tolerance.

Following this revelation, the researchers aimed to explore the potential impact of physical activity on the likelihood of experiencing chronic pain several years later, while also investigating its relationship with pain tolerance.

Anders Årnes, a doctoral fellow at UiT and UNN and one of the researchers involved in the study, elaborates, “We found that individuals who engaged in more physical activity during their leisure time had a decreased risk of developing various forms of chronic pain 7-8 years later. Even a slight increase in activity, such as transitioning from light to moderate levels, was associated with a 5% decrease in the risk of reporting chronic pain.”

He further notes that for severe chronic pain affecting multiple body areas, higher levels of activity were linked to a 16% reduced risk.

The researchers discovered that pain tolerance played a crucial role in this observed protective effect. This suggests that physical activity enhances our capacity to endure pain, potentially explaining how it contributes to lowering the risk of severe chronic pain.

The study, which included nearly 7,000 participants from the extensive Tromsø survey, examined participants’ exercise habits and assessed their cold pain tolerance in a laboratory setting. Subsequently, they monitored whether participants experienced pain persisting for three months or longer, encompassing pain affecting multiple body regions or presenting as more severe.

Although 60% of participants reported some form of chronic pain, severe pain in multiple body areas was reported by only 5% of them. Fewer individuals experienced more serious pain conditions.

The findings of the research were recently published in the journal PAIN — Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain.

Regarding exercise for individuals already dealing with chronic pain, Årnes suggests, “Physical activity itself is not inherently risky, but individuals with chronic pain can benefit significantly from a tailored exercise program designed to help them manage their exertion levels effectively. Healthcare professionals specializing in chronic pain management can provide valuable assistance in this regard. As a general guideline, there should be no persistent exacerbation of symptoms following exercise over an extended period, although some post-exercise reactions can be anticipated.”


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