Written by Mark Boyland PT, DPT, CSCS

What if I told you there was a non pharmaceutical way to promote pain relief or maybe more accurately a way to reduce your perception of pain through exercise?  What if you could continue moving and exercising your other non painful body parts and that the exercise would benefit your painful body parts?  What if it only took 15 minutes of aerobic exercise where your heart rate reached at least 120?  Would you take that option?  Let’s explore more.

This study explored patient’s pain perception levels before and after a bout of aerobic exercise.  The study design included 20 females and 10 males who averaged 20.6 years old.  The researchers made sure that the participants had no history of shoulder pain prior to performing the study.  The researchers used an algometer, a device that applies pressure and measures the pounds/cm2 applied until there is a report of pain.  The researchers performed this measure 4 times in total.  Twice in the first day with 15 minutes between measurements and then again 24-48 hours later with the third test being prior to performing aerobic exercise and the fourth and final test after aerobic exercise.  The researches chose a NuStep for the aerobic exercise and told participants to only use their legs to perform the exercise bout.

As an average the participants had relatively similar algometer readings at measures 1,2,and 3 with an increase in tolerance for the 4th measure after aerobic exercise of approximately 1.5-1.9 pounds/cm2.  Of note however, the females had a more consistent baseline measure at 11.4, 11.0, and 11.9 with a 4th measure of 13.6 whereas the male participants had decreasing readings with a generally increased 4th reading at 17.3, 16.5, 15.6, and 17.4. 

The evidence may not be very strong for the use of aerobic exercise of non painful extremities to reduce pain in painful extremities however there may be some merit.  Regardless, continuing with a form of tolerable and preferred aerobic exercise is still recommended for general health and wellness regardless of the presence of pain.  Additional studies are needed with larger sample sizes and possibly to include participants who have shoulder pain as opposed to recreating shoulder pain with a tool.  Regardless, as a physical therapist if I can provide my patients with a non pharmacological and non modality based pain relief who am I to deny them?

Do you think it’s worth 15 minutes of your time?

PMCID: PMC7015025