Aerobic exercise can reduce musculoskeletal pain sensitisation

One in three people live with a musculoskeletal condition, which is characterised by pain and disability. Pain sensitisation is often discussed as a component of those that suffer with chronic pain, and can be described as the experience of pain to normally innocuous environmental factors.

High pain sensitivity is often present in those that suffer with musculoskeletal pain, such as osteoarthritis and low back pain, and can significantly effect peoples' quality of life. Currently, medicinal treatment for musculoskeletal conditions include anti-depressants and opioid medication, but these can carry side effects such as addiction and increased pain sensitivity.

Exercise has been recommended for the management of pain in previous studies, with the overall aim of reducing pain sensitisation. Aerobic exercise (such as walking or cycling) at a submaximal intensity of 50-75% maximal VO², for 4-60 minutes in duration, 1-5 times a week, has been shown to reduce pain sensitivity.

It is thought that aerobic exercise has an inhibitory effect on pain mechanisms, and also stimulates the body to produce endocannabinoids (natural pain relief). Under exercise supervision, this research could offer a very positive approach to those suffering with musculoskeletal conditions, and a healthy alternative to long-term medication.

Tan, L., et al. (2022). Does aerobic exercise effect pain sensitisation in individuals with musculoskeletal pain? A systematic review. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 23, 113.