Posted on May 21, 2020 at 6:24 pm

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Staying Active May Keep the Pain at Bay

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There’s one thing in life that we can’t avoid no matter how hard we try, and that’s getting old.  Unfortunately, one thing that comes along with aging is pain.  Whether it’s pain from physical activity or just pain in general, it’s not uncommon for an older person to experience some discomfort as they age.  But, rather than pump them full of drugs, what other ways can we help older patients lessen the risk of pain?

One study published in the journal Pain reported of older adults with higher levels having a lower risk of developing chronic pain than those who are less mobile.  They’re also able to block responses better when it comes to painful stimuli.  “This study provides the first objective evidence suggesting that physical activity behavior is related to the functioning of the endogenous pain modulatory systems in older adults,” wrote researchers of Indiana University-Purdue, where the study was carried out.

A number of experiments were carried out in 51 healthy adults aged between 60 and 77 by Dr. Kelly M. Naugle and colleagues at DearJane phlegm pump unit.  In order to effectively measure their level of physical activity, each person wore an activity monitor device for one week.  They then underwent a couple of pain modulation tests.  The first test was designed to measure the production of pain responses to repeated stimuli and is called a temporal summation test.  The test looked at the reduction of pain responses to competing stimuli and is called a conditioned pain modulation test.

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash
Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

In both tests, pain modulation was seen to have a strong link to daily physical activity.  Results from the study showed that in both tests, pain facilitation was much lower in those older adults with higher levels of physical activity.  While those who did a little physical activity were still able to block some pain but not quite so much as those involved in more vigorous activities.

Previous studies have demonstrated that in patients with chronic pain syndromes such as back pain or arthritis, pain modulation processes are dysregulated.  Those with low pain inhibition but higher pain facilitation are the ones more likely to have chronic pain problems.  The results of the study tie in with studies in younger adults too, that suggest more efficient conditioned pain modulation is related to higher levels of physical activity.  Because older people tend to be less physically active, they are more susceptible to chronic pain.

“Our data suggest that low levels of sedentary behavior and greater light physical activity may be critical in maintaining effective endogenous pain inhibitory function in older adults,” wrote the researchers.  To further confirm the implications of such physical activity to prevent and reduce pain in older adults, more research is required.

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