Higher Pain Tolerance for Athletes Than Active Controls

Impact of exercise on pain perception suggests potential of physical activity in pain management

MONDAY, May 21 (HealthDay News) -- Athletes seem to have significantly higher pain tolerance than normally-active people, according to research published in the June issue of Pain.

Jonas Tesarz, M.D., from the University of Heidelberg in Germany, and colleagues conducted a systematic literature review and meta-analysis of 15 studies involving 899 individuals, which compared pain perception between athletes and normally-active controls. Of the studies, 12 assessed pain tolerance and nine evaluated pain threshold.

The researchers found that, based on meta-analysis of the studies, athletes had significantly higher pain tolerance compared to normally-active controls (effect size calculated as Hedges' g, 0.87). The data on pain threshold were less uniform and, after excluding studies with potential bias, there was no longer a significant difference between the groups in pain threshold.

"Our data indicate that regular physical activity is associated with specific alterations in pain perception," the authors write. "Further research is required to clarify the exact relationship between physical activity and modifications in pain perception and to identify underlying mechanisms. These findings emphasize the potential role of physical exercise in the management of pain."

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