New York Times health blogger Gretchen Reynolds shares the results of a new study indicating that regular exercise may alter how a person experiences pain. The longer we continue to work out, the new findings suggest, the greater our tolerance for discomfort can grow.
Scientists have known that strenuous exercise briefly and acutely dulls pain. As muscles begin to ache during a prolonged workout, scientists have found, the body typically releases natural opiates, such as endorphins, and other substances that can slightly dampen the discomfort. This effect, which scientists refer to as exercise-induced hypoalgesia, usually begins during the workout and lingers for perhaps 20 or 30 minutes afterward.
Pain threshold is the point at which we start to feel pain. Pain tolerance is the amount of time that we can withstand the pain, before we cease doing whatever is causing it. The study found that volunteers who exercised had no change to their pain threshold but did have increased pain tolerance.
According to the lead researcher on the study, the findings “could be meaningful for people struggling with chronic pain.”