BACKGROUND: Exercise is recommended to promote and maintain health and as treatment for more than 25 diseases and pain conditions. Exercise-induced hypoalgesia (EIH), a measure of descending pain inhibitory control, has been found to be impaired in some chronic pain conditions, but it is currently unclear if EIH is modifiable. This study investigated whether a long-term exercise intervention could modulate EIH in healthy subjects.
METHODS: In 38 healthy subjects, EIH was assessed as change in pressure pain threshold (PPT) after a three-minute isometric wall squat within the first week and after approximately seven weeks of military training (MT). Further, temporal summation of pain (TSP) and Knee injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (KOOS) were assessed. Physical performance capacity was assessed using the Endurance 20-m shuttle run fitness test (20MSR). Hypoalgesic (EIH > 0.0 kPa) and hyperalgesic (EIH ≤ 0.0 kPa) subgroups were defined based on baseline EIH. Change in EIH following MT was used as the primary outcome.
RESULTS: Increased EIH (P = 0.008), PPT (P < 0.003), and 20MSR (P < 0.001) were found following MT, with no changes in TSP and KOOS (P > 0.05). Subjects with a hyperalgesic EIH response at baseline (26% of the participants) presented significantly improved EIH following MT (P = 0.010). Finally, an association between 20MRS change and EIH change was found (r = 0.369, P = 0.023).
CONCLUSIONS: MT increased EIH, especially in subjects who demonstrated a hyperalgesic response at baseline. Improvement in physical performance capacity was associated with an improvement in EIH, indicating that improvement in physical performance capacity may improve central pain mechanisms.