Friday, May 18, 2012

Pain Management Without Drugs: Grab Your Running Shoes

Interesting study in the journal Pain (here's an article that provides a brief overview). 

The basic premise is that while most of us have similar pain thresholds, athletes (specifically, endurance athletes) have developed superior coping mechanisms that help them deal with chronic pain, even while they're at rest.  One potential conclusion is that exercise may be a key to dealing with chronic pain, both psychologically and physically.  This study caught my eye for both professional and personal reasons - I've been a long distance runner and, more recently, an amateur triathlete (heavy emphasis on "amateur") for many years and I've always felt that the psychological and physical rigor that comes with endurance athletics created benefit outside of the exercise itself. 

The study is actually a meta-analysis of 15 studies and was conducted by German researchers at the University of Heidelberg. The authors note: "Athletes are frequently exposed to unpleasant sensory experiences during their daily physical efforts, and high physical and psychological resistances must be overcome during competitions or very exhausting activities.  However, athletes are forced to develop efficient pain-coping skills because of their systematic exposure to brief periods of intense pain."

I'll add that there's a side benefit to introducing exercise as a key component of dealing with chronic pain - it may help stem the rise of obesity as one of the most common comorbid conditions related to industrial injury.  I'd also hypothesize that it would help with depression as well. 

Fewer pills... more exercise... the world would be a better place (and medical care wouldn't be nearly as expensive). 

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