Exercise and pain


Prescribed exercises are a core component of Physiotherapy and there is an abundance of research proving its effectiveness in combating a wide range of conditions, from osteoporosis to depression and everything else in between. Many in the medical world consider exercise to be the single most effective medicine known to man with little harmful side effects when done correctly and in the right dosage.


Exercise and pain reduction are an interesting subject and I would like to briefly touch upon it.  For people experiencing pain their initial reaction is to avoid exercise and seek bed rest, but this can often be detrimental and can exacerbate the painful condition. Pain reduction that occurs during and after exercise is known as Exercise induced hypoalgesia (EIH), its mechanisms are not completely understood but it is theorized that during exercise the body’s natural opioid systems: beta-endorphins, which are one of 3 endorphins produced in the human body, cause an analgesic effect that reduces pain transmission. Another of the body’s natural exercise-induced pain reducing mechanisms are the neurotransmitters known as endocannabinoids, which cause the exercise-induced euphoria often referred to as the “runner’s high”.


Are all exercises created equal?


First of all, for most pain conditions bed rest for more than 48 hours is detrimental and is associated with increased intensity and length of pain. In general, endurance exercises of 25-30 minutes on a treadmill or exercise bike at a heart rate reserve (HRR) of 70% results in a significant decrease in pain perception. Resistance exercises have not been studied as much, but a single study of exercises consisting of 45 minutes performing 3 sets of 10 repetitions at 75% of 1 repetition max (1RM), which consisted of all large muscle groups, resulted in a significant decrease in pain perception. Tai Chi and Yoga are also proven interventions for the treatment of osteoarthritis and back pain.


My take


Especially now as our lives have become more sedentary, isolated and stressed with coronavirus, exercise is a great way to boost your self-esteem, reduce stress and socialize outdoors in a safe environment. However, like any drug, exercise needs to be prescribed at the right intensity, dosage and duration to be effective and to prevent further pain or injury. Furthermore, exercise programs need to be individualized according to a person’s medical history, baseline fitness and physical limitations, therefore it is best to seek the advice of an orthopedic doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist before commencing an exercise program.

If you have any questions or would like to book an appointment call 052 608 5262.


Happy autumn,



Resize Font