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Older adults and reduction in post-exercise pain perception

In healthy younger adults, a single session of isometric exercise can temporarily decrease pain sensitivity and perception.


April 16, 2019
By American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
In healthy younger adults

Isometric exercises provide a helpful tool to study this phenomenon. Isometrics are those exercises that involve static contraction–force is applied by the muscle against an immovable object, but no muscle shortening occurs, e.g., squeezing a jar as hard as you can. This phenomenon of reduced pain sensitivity following acute isometric exercise is called “exercise-induced hypoalgesia.” In this study, the investigators assessed whether 52 healthy older adults would experience exercise-induced hypoalgesia after performing a single bout of isometric exercise with their hands and forearms. The researchers also measured the physical activity patterns of these subjects for one week, using an accelerometer. An accelerometer is a small device worn on the hip that measures how much a person moves and the intensity of those movements.

This study, which supports evidence from prior studies, showed that healthy older adults do not experience exercise-induced hypoalgesia. In other words, many older adults did not experience reduced pain sensitivity following a single session of isometric exercise, as is often found in younger adults. Interestingly, however, participants’ weekly physical activity behavior was important in predicting which older adults did experience reduced pain sensitivity following the exercise. Specifically, older adults who did more moderate to vigorous physical activity per week experienced greater exercise-induced hypoalgesia, meaning they experienced more reduction in pain following exercise. These results point to potential benefits of physical activity in maintaining older adults’ capacity for pain reduction following acute exercise. Understanding modifiable factors associated with age-related changes in pain processing, such as physical activity behavior, is essential to pain prevention and management strategies for this growing segment of the population.

For more information, view the abstract or contact the investigator.


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