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Pain tolerance increases with physical activity

Ten thousand steps and more. Doing physical activity makes you more resistant to pain. In any case, this is shown by a study published on May 24 in PLOS One. The team of Anders Arnes, from Tromso hospital, analyzed data from 10,732 people from this Norwegian city over two periods, in 2007-2008 and in 2015-2016. To measure their resistance to pain, participants had to immerse their hand and wrist in water maintained at 3°C ​​for as long as possible, up to a maximum tolerance time of 120 seconds. Result: physically active subjects have a higher resistance to pain than those who are sedentary. And even more so for those who increased their activity level during follow-up.

“These results argue for increased levels of physical activity as a non-drug route to reducing or preventing chronic pain”, conclude the researchers. Other studies had already shown these effects, especially in athletes.

The analgesic effect of physical activity no longer needs to be demonstrated. The Talmudist and physician of the twelfthe century did not Moses Maimonides say “If someone leads a sedentary life and does not exercise, neglects the ways of nature, even if he eats healthy food in accordance with medical precepts, he will be subject during his life to evil and pains and his strength will fail him” ?

The brake of fear of movement

“Physical exercise represents a fundamental approach in the management of a large number of pains”says Serge Perrot, who heads the pain treatment center at Cochin Hospital (AP-HP), in the book The pain, I get by (In Press, 2017). Conversely, a sedentary lifestyle is an aggravating factor. Health insurance had also launched a campaign in 2017 on the theme: “Back pain: the right treatment is movement! “.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Against back pain, move more, but not just anyhow

The mechanism at the physiological level seems to be elucidated. Physical activity would reduce the efficiency of NMDA receptors in the spinal cord, which contribute to amplifying pain. Similarly, moving acts on immunity. “Muscular exercise will increase the proportion of a family of cells, the so-called M2 macrophages, involved in our cell repair and healing, which have an anti-inflammatory and therefore analgesic effect”says neurosurgeon Marc Lévêque in his book let’s free ourselves from pain (Buchet-Chastel, 2022). It would also promote the reduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Moreover, “Thanks to the production of endorphins, physical activity also acts on anxiety and depressive disorders, often linked to chronic pain”, continues Marc Lévêque. It can also help improve fatigue resistance.

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