Chronic Pain and Exercise – Matthew Osborn AEP

Pain is defined as “’an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage” and serves as a protective mechanism to prevent further damage to the body. The pain experience is different for every individual, as the nature of the injury and our ability to cope with it varies.  When tissue damage occurs, pain-sensitive receptors in our body (called nociceptors) are stimulated. As we are recovering from an injury, these receptors remain active and the threshold at which we experience pain is lowered. Once the injury has healed, these receptors become less reactive and the threshold for pain returns to normal levels.

Pathological conditions such as Fibromyalgia or Chronic Pain can occur when there is a disruption with how our body processes sensory information, resulting in the individual to experience exaggerated pain responses in the absence of an outside stimulus.  Due to serious injuries in the past, the nociceptors can remain highly reactive and  the threshold for pain hasn’t returned to normal levels. As a result, we will experience discomfort when completing any daily activities, despite no damage present.

For people with chronic pain or fibromyalgia, exercise has proven to improve cognition, mood and pain control.  As exercise may seem daunting, it is important to understand pain and how to distinguish between muscle soreness from exercise and other types of pain. In addition, it is important to address fear avoidant beliefs around exercise and address mental health concerns that may be present. With the guidance of a health professional, a person with chronic pain learn to exercise at levels that are manageable (e.g. doing light intensity exercises with bands)  and over time, with safe progression of exercises, a person can slowly increase the threshold at which they are experiencing pain.  As a result,  completing daily activities becomes easier and quality of life improves for the individual.