Physical activity interventions, chronic pain, and subjective well-being among persons with spinal cord injury: a systematic scoping review

Spinal Cord. 2021 Feb;59(2):93-104. doi: 10.1038/s41393-020-00550-z. Epub 2020 Sep 18.


Study design: Scoping review of experimental and quasi-experimental studies.

Objective: To systematically synthesize research testing the effects of leisure time physical activity (LTPA) interventions on chronic pain and subjective well-being (SWB) among adults with spinal cord injury (SCI).

Methods: Literature searches were conducted using multiple databases (Web of Science, Embase, CINAHL, Medline, PsychINFO and SPORTDiscus) to identify studies involving persons with SCI that measured and reported the effects of LTPA interventions on both chronic pain and at least one measure of SWB (e.g., affect, life satisfaction, satisfaction with various life domains). Relevant data were extracted from the studies and synthesized.

Results: A total of 3494 articles were screened. Fifteen published articles, consisting of 12 different studies met the review inclusion criteria. Four different patterns of findings were observed regarding the effect of LTPA on chronic pain and SWB outcomes: (1) increased chronic pain, decreased SWB (1 article); (2) decreased chronic pain, improved SWB (12 articles); (3) increased chronic pain, improved SWB (1 article); and (4) unchanged levels of pain, improved SWB (1 article).

Conclusions: Results of most articles included in this scoping review suggest that LTPA interventions can reduce chronic pain and improve SWB for persons with SCI. Further research is needed to identify the mechanisms by which LTPA affects pain and SWB, in order to formulate LTPA prescriptions that maximize improvements in these outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Pain* / therapy
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Spinal Cord Injuries* / complications