Physical activity behavior predicts endogenous pain modulation in older adults

Pain. 2017 Mar;158(3):383-390. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000769.


Older adults compared with younger adults are characterized by greater endogenous pain facilitation and a reduced capacity to endogenously inhibit pain, potentially placing them at a greater risk for chronic pain. Previous research suggests that higher levels of self-reported physical activity are associated with more effective pain inhibition and less pain facilitation on quantitative sensory tests in healthy adults. However, no studies have directly tested the relationship between physical activity behavior and pain modulatory function in older adults. This study examined whether objective measures of physical activity behavior cross-sectionally predicted pain inhibitory function on the conditioned pain modulation (CPM) test and pain facilitation on the temporal summation (TS) test in healthy older adults. Fifty-one older adults wore an accelerometer on the hip for 7 days and completed the CPM and TS tests. Measures of sedentary time, light physical activity (LPA), and moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) were obtained from the accelerometer. Hierarchical linear regressions were conducted to determine the relationship of TS and CPM with levels of physical activity, while controlling for demographic, psychological, and test variables. The results indicated that sedentary time and LPA significantly predicted pain inhibitory function on the CPM test, with less sedentary time and greater LPA per day associated with greater pain inhibitory capacity. Additionally, MVPA predicted pain facilitation on the TS test, with greater MVPA associated with less TS of pain. These results suggest that different types of physical activity behavior may differentially impact pain inhibitory and facilitatory processes in older adults.

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy
  • Aged
  • Catastrophization / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Geriatric Assessment*
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation / adverse effects
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Self Report
  • Sex Factors