Limited Association Between Aerobic Fitness and Pain in Healthy Individuals: A Cross-Sectional Study

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Objective. In healthy individuals and people with chronic pain, an inverse association between physical activity level and pain has been reported. Associations between objectively measured fitness and pain have also been found in people with chronic pain, but it is not clear whether the same relations are apparent in healthy individuals. The purpose of the present study was to examine the relation between aerobic capacity and pain in healthy individuals.

Methods. Pressure pain threshold, ischemic pain tolerance, and pain ratings during ischemia were assessed and analyzed in relation to aerobic capacity in 35 healthy individuals. Correlation and multiple linear regression were used to analyze the data. Data from previous similar studies in healthy individuals and people with fibromyalgia were extracted and collated by literature review to support interpretation of the experimental data.

Results. No relation was found between aerobic capacity and any measure of pain, with the exception of a moderate inverse association between aerobic capacity and lower body pressure pain threshold in males (r = -0.58, P = 0.03) when data from male and female participants were analyzed separately. The limited association between aerobic capacity and quantitative sensory testing of pain was consistent with the data synthesis from previous studies of healthy individuals but differed from studies of people with fibromyalgia.

Conclusions. Aerobic capacity is unrelated to pain in healthy young adults. For people with chronic pain, the negative relation between aerobic capacity and pain presumably arises from the underlying pathophysiology and/or associated behaviors of the disease process.

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