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Does exercise reduce the severity of chronic pain ?

Chronic pain may arise from an initial injury, such as a back sprain, or illness but there may also be no clear cause. Other health problems, such as fatigue, sleep disturbance, decreased appetite, and mood changes, often accompany chronic pain. Chronic pain may limit a person’s movements, which can reduce flexibility, strength, stamina and function which can in turn lead to depression.

Pain is a very personal and subjective experience. There is no test that can measure and locate pain with precision.  The patient’s own description of the type, timing, and location of pain whether it is sharp or dull, constant or intermittent, or burning or aching may give the best clues to the cause of the pain.

Since chronic pain may occur in a variety of locations in the body and for many different reasons, it is important that the health professional team work together to identify the causes and symptoms of the pain and how it can be relieved.

People with chronic pain used to be advised to rest but are now advised to keep active. However, exercise may have specific benefits in reducing the severity of chronic pain, as well as more general benefits associated with improved overall physical and mental health, and physical functioning.

Overview of Cochrane Reviews on exercise and chronic pain in adults concluded that physical activity did not cause harm. Muscle soreness that sometimes occurs when starting a new exercise subsided as the participants adapted to the new activities. This is important as it shows physical activity in general is acceptable and unlikely to cause harm in people with chronic pain, many of whom may have previously feared it would increase their pain further. The exercises included those for aerobic strength, flexibility, range of movement and core strengthening as well as yoga, Pilates and tai chi.

So in conclusion those of you who suffer with chronic pain should keep moving and slowly build the amount of exercise you are doing.


Frontline, the Physiotherapy Magazine for CSP Members