Older people who stay active are less likely to experience chronic pain, according to a study published in PAIN, the official publication of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP).
The researchers say their findings provide the first objective evidence to suggest that physical activity behaviour is related to the functioning of the endogenous pain modulatory systems in older adults.
Dr Kelly M. Naugle and colleagues at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis performed a series of experiments in 51 healthy adults, aged 60 to 77. The participants wore an activity monitor device for one week to measure their level of physical activity. They then underwent two tests of pain modulation — functions affecting the way pain is interpreted and perceived by the central nervous system.
The results showed that pain modulation was significantly related to daily physical activity level. Older adults who were more physically active had lower pain perception and were better able to block responses to painful stimuli.
Specifically, those who did more moderate to vigorous physical activity perceived less facilitation of pain, while those who did at least some activity were better able to block pain perceptions.
Previous studies have shown that pain modulation processes are dysregulated in patients with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis, back pain and fibromyalgia. People with higher pain facilitation and lower pain inhibition are more likely to develop problems with chronic pain.
“Our data suggest that low levels of sedentary behaviour and greater light physical activity may be critical in maintaining effective endogenous pain inhibitory function in older adults,” the study authors explained.