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Papers: 2 Mar 2024 - 7 Mar 2024

2024 Mar 05



Does pain tolerance mediate the effect of physical activity on chronic pain in the general population? The Tromsø Study.


Årnes AP, Fjeld MK, Stigum H, Nielsen CS, Stubhaug A, Johansen A, Hopstock LA, Morseth B, Wilsgaard T, Steingrímsdóttir ÓA


Knowledge is needed regarding mechanisms acting between physical activity (PA) and chronic pain. We investigated whether cold pain tolerance mediates an effect of leisure-time physical activity on the risk of chronic pain 7 to 8 years later using consecutive surveys of the population-based Tromsø Study. We included participants with information on baseline leisure-time PA (LTPA) and the level of cold pressor-assessed cold pain tolerance, who reported chronic pain status at follow-up as any of the following: chronic pain for ≥3 months, widespread chronic pain, moderate-to-severe chronic pain, or widespread moderate-to-severe chronic pain. We included 6834 participants (52% women; mean age, 55 years) in counterfactual mediation analyses. Prevalence decreased with severity, for example, 60% for chronic pain vs 5% for widespread moderate-to-severe chronic pain. People with one level higher LTPA rating (light to moderate or moderate to vigorous) at baseline had lower relative risk (RR) of 4 chronic pain states 7 to 8 years later. Total RR effect of a 1-level LTPA increase was 0.95 (0.91-1.00), that is, -5% decreased risk. Total effect RR for widespread chronic pain was 0.84 (0.73-0.97). Indirect effect for moderate-to-severe chronic pain was statistically significant at RR 0.993 (0.988-0.999); total effect RR was 0.91 (0.83-0.98). Statistically significantly mediated RR for widespread moderate-to-severe chronic pain was 0.988 (0.977-0.999); total effect RR was 0.77 (0.64-0.94). This shows small mediation of the effect of LTPA through pain tolerance on 2 moderate-to-severe chronic pain types. This suggests pain tolerance to be one possible mechanism through which PA modifies the risk of moderate-to-severe chronic pain types with and without widespread pain.