Exercise Proves Ineffective in Sensitivity Study of Chronic Pain Patients

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Patients with chronic pain experience augmented perceptual and brain responses to innocuous somatic pressure stimulation compared to pain-free people; however, these responses did not change with 12 weeks of exercise rehabilitation, according to an fMRI study published in the International Journal of General Medicine.

Enhanced sensitivity to mechanical somatic pressure is a characteristic of chronic pain, and previous research has shown that exercise rehabilitation can reduce that sensitivity. Researchers sought to build on this previous research by observing functional brain responses of chronic pain patients during innocuous somatic pressure stimulation through the use of fMRI.

The study consisted of 19 participants: 11 with chronic pain disorder and eight healthy control participants. All participants took part in exercise rehabilitation, which consisted of 20 minutes of supervised aerobic exercise twice a week for 12 weeks.

The researchers collected fMRI data two weeks before exercise rehabilitation and one week after. During the fMRI, somatic pressure stimulation was applied by positioning a 2 kg mass on the right mid-thigh of each participant. Participants were asked to rate the somatic pressure sensation on a sensory scale of zero-10, with zero being no sensation and 10 being pain tolerance.

The sensory rating confirmed somatic pressure hypersensitivity among the chronic pain patients. Compared to the control group, the chronic pain group reported a 46% higher rating pre-exercise rehabilitation and a 50% higher rating post-rehabilitation.

Contrary to the study’s hypothesis, exercise rehabilitation did not reduce somatic pressure sensitivity in chronic pain patients. The fMRI results did find that brain responses in people with chronic pain differ from pain-free people in the right superior temporal gyrus, right thalamus and left caudate during somatic pressure stimulation.

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Exercise ineffective in sensitivity study of chronic pain patients

This study aims to build on previous research that shows that exercise rehabilitation can reduce sensitivity to mechanical somatic pressure in patients with chronic pain. 19 participants took part in twice-weekly exercise rehabilitation for 12 weeks in which functional brain responses were observed using fMRI. 

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