Regular Exercise Reduces Anxiety Associated with Chronic Pain

Study Reports Exercise Benefits for People with Chronic Back Pain

ExercisePeople with chronic pain often experience pain that transcends the physical. Besides long-term low back or neck pain, patients can get so frustrated that they may develop depression and anxiety. To combat the multi-faceted nature of chronic pain, doctors often suggest that patients exercise. A new report supports this common treatment—especially if patients also suffer from mental and emotional disorders.

The study, which was written by researchers from the University of Georgia and published in the February 22, 2010 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, was based off the results of 40 published studies that included approximately 3,000 patients with a variety of chronic illnesses, including chronic back pain.

On average, the researchers found that the patients who exercised on a regular basis reported 20% less anxiety symptoms compared to those who didn't exercise regularly.

These findings are important because anxiety often interferes with a patient's ability to follow his or her treatment plan.

"We found that exercise seems to work with just about everybody under most situations," said Pat O'Connor, PhD, the study's co-author. "Exercise even helps people who are not very anxious to begin with become more calm."

The research team determined that less intense forms of exercise, particularly walking or weight lifting, most alleviated anxiety symptoms. They also reported that exercise sessions that lasted longer than 30 minutes were more beneficial than those that lasted less than 30 minutes.

But perhaps most surprising about this study is that exercise programs lasting between 3 and 12 weeks more successfully reduced anxiety symptoms than those lasting longer than 12 weeks. The researchers believe this observation was due to the fact that participants were less likely to continue with the exercise program. In other words, fewer participants after the 12 week meant less reductions in anxiety overall.

If you'd like to learn more about good exercises to do when you have chronic pain, you may read our article on chronic pain and exercise.

And to read more about these findings, you may access the abstract here.

Updated on: 03/22/16
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