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Just in July 2011 three researchers associated with Loyola University in Chicago announced a new understanding of how exercise, more specifically "forced exercise," relieves pain.

No Exercise Relieves Pain for Everybody, But Everybody Can Do Exercise to Relieve Pain

Repeated exercise, it turns out, changes the basic flow of electrical charges in individual cells in the brain. The brain becomes more responsive to the endorphins (chemicals associated with the famous "runner's high") and endocannibinoids (chemicals that activate the same cells in the brain as marijuana) due to changes in the way cells respond to calcium.

Finally, scientists have an understanding of why exercise changes perception of pain. The reality that exercise can reduce pain—assuming it's an exercise that does not aggravate existing tissue injury—has been around for a long time. Here are ten scientifically proven examples of ten different kinds of exercise that relieve ten different kinds of pain.

1. Taiwanese researchers confirm that grasping a "birth ball" over the abdomen during labor reduces the pain of childbirth.

2. Hospitals all over the United States issue "care bears" for recent recipients of open heart surgery to hug when they need pain relief.

3. Swimming enables people with arthritis to get exercisewithout inordinate stress on painful joints, and changes the immune system so that tissue destruction is reduced.

4. Walking is recommended for relief of low-back pain. Back pain sufferers who treat their pain with bed rest usually don't get well as fast as back pain sufferers who get up and around for at least a few minutes a day.

5. Tai chi relieves pain, "brain fog," and stiffness associated with fibromyalgia. Over 70 scientific studies have examined the use of tai chi for relief of knee pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lower back pain, symptoms of menopause, cancer pain, and muscle spasms in college students anxious about exams.

6. Researchers at the Flevo Hospital Almere in the Netherlands find that yoga relieves the pain of irritable bowel syndrome(IBS) in children, especially children aged 8 to 11 years. A follow-up study conducted at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that exercise also relieves IBS pain in adults.

7. Researchers at the University Clinic in Kiel University have experimented with aerobic exercise as a preventive measure for reducing the pain of migraine headaches. Running three times a week reduced both the frequency and severity of migraine attacks, and led to reports of greater emotional adjustment.

8. Iranian researchers have used mountain climbing expeditions as a treatment for psychological issues around issues of low self-esteem.

9. Researchers at the University of California at Davis have found that skydiving helps fade memories of painful and stressful events.

10. A study in a 1996 edition of the journal Clinical Nursing Research found that shuffleboard,an activity usually associated with seniors, helps stop the "heart palpitations" associated with pain and heavy exercise.

As these examples show, exercise that relieves pain doesn't have to involve huffing and puffing and dripping sweat, although it certainly may. Exercise simply has to be done consistently. See your doctor or physical therapist before beginning any exercise program intended for pain reduction.



  • Shankarappa SA, Piedras-Rentería ES, Stubbs EB Jr.Forced-exercisedelays neuropathicpainin experimental diabetes: effects on voltage-activated calcium channels. J Neurochem. 2011 Jul, 118(2):224-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2011.07302.x. Epub 2011 Jun 2.
  • Photo courtesy by familymwr on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/familymwr/5032496501/