An analysis of data from more than 10,000 participants shows that all physically active individuals had a higher pain tolerance than sedentary individuals, and that individuals who had a higher activity level had a higher pain tolerance.
Previous studies have suggested the possibility that habitual participation in a higher level of physical activity may help prevent or relieve chronic pain by increasing pain tolerance. However, most studies on this topic have been small or aimed at small groups of individuals.
To help shed light on the connection between pain tolerance and physical activity, the researchers analyzed data from 10,732 individuals who took part in the Tromsø Study, a large population survey study that is conducted periodically.
The researchers used data from 2 rounds of the Tromsø study, 1 conducted from 2007 to 2008 and the other from 2015 to 2016. The data included self-reported physical activity levels and pain tolerance levels, as assessed in a test this involved dipping one of their hands in cold water.
A statistical analysis of the data revealed that people who reported being physically active in both rounds of the study had a higher pain tolerance than people who reported being sedentary in both study rounds.
Individuals with higher levels of total activity had higher pain tolerance, and individuals with higher activity level from 2015 to 2016 than 2007 through 2008 had higher overall pain tolerance.
The analysis did not indicate a statistically significant connection between activity level and changes in pain tolerance between the 2 study cycles. However, it does indicate that staying physically active, getting active, or increasing activity is associated with greater pain tolerance.
Based on the findings, the researchers indicate that increased physical activity could be a potential strategy to relieve or prevent chronic pain. Getting or staying physically active over time can help improve your pain tolerance.
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