A meta-analytic review of the hypoalgesic effects of exercise

J Pain. 2012 Dec;13(12):1139-50. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2012.09.006. Epub 2012 Nov 8.


The purpose of this article was to examine the effects of acute exercise on pain perception in healthy adults and adults with chronic pain using meta-analytic techniques. Specifically, studies using a repeated measures design to examine the effect of acute isometric, aerobic, or dynamic resistance exercise on pain threshold and pain intensity measures were included in this meta-analysis. The results suggest that all 3 types of exercise reduce perception of experimentally induced pain in healthy participants, with effects ranging from small to large depending on pain induction method and exercise protocol. In healthy participants, the mean effect size for aerobic exercise was moderate (d(thr) = .41, d(int) = .59), while the mean effect sizes for isometric exercise (d(thr) = 1.02, d(int) = .72) and dynamic resistance exercise (d(thr) = .83, d(int) = .75) were large. In chronic pain populations, the magnitude and direction of the effect sizes were highly variable for aerobic and isometric exercise and appeared to depend on the chronic pain condition being studied as well as the intensity of the exercise. While trends could be identified, the optimal dose of exercise that is needed to produce hypoalgesia could not be systematically determined with the amount of data available.

Perspective: This article presents a quantitative review of the exercise-induced hypoalgesia literature. This review raises several important questions that need to be addressed while also demonstrating that acute exercise has a hypoalgesic effect on experimentally induced pain in healthy adults, and both a hypoalgesic and hyperalgesic effect in adults with chronic pain.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Management / psychology
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Pain Measurement / psychology
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Pain Threshold / psychology
  • Pain* / physiopathology
  • Pain* / psychology