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Higher Levels of Physical Activity in Older Adults Could Lessen Risk of Chronic Pain

Feb 27, 2017 09:12 AM EST

A new study revealed that older adults with higher levels of physical activity were less likely to develop chronic pain, compared to those with no or little daily physical activity.

The study, published in the journal PAIN, showed that the pain modulation patterns of active adults lower the risk of developing 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 Kelly M. Naugle, PhD, one of the authors of the study, in a press release.

For the study, the researchers recruited 51 healthy adults, aged 60 to 77. All the participants were asked to wear an activity monitor device to measure the level of their physical activity. The participants also underwent two tests in pain modulation or the functions that affect how the pain is interpreted and perceived by the central nervous system.

One of the tests, dubbed as "temporal summation," measured the facilitation of pain responses to repeated pain stimuli. On the other hand, the so-called "conditioned pain modulation" test assessed the inhibition of pain responses to competing pain stimuli.

Read Also: Commonly Used Medication Linked to Increased Risk of Hospitalization in Older Adults

The researchers found that older adults with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity had lower pain scores on the temporal summation tests, while those who had light physical activity or had less sedentary time per day had lower pain scores in conditioned modulation tests. Lower pain scores in the temporal summation test indicate less pain facilitation, while lower pain score in the conditioned modulation test indicates better pain inhibition.

The difference between the two tests could play a vital role in to the "central sensitization" process, which is believed to be responsible for the transition of acute pain to chronic pain. By knowing the specific dysfunctional pain modulation pattern, healthcare providers could develop a type of physical activity that could best improve a patient's pain response pattern, preventing the development of chronic pain.

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