Exercise is a Healthy Alternative to Pain Medication
As you may know one of the fastest growing areas of addiction in North America is pain medication. According to a 2016 Center for Disease Control study 78 Americans die every day from opioid overdose. Opioid prescription overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. Now I know I’ve started this post on a little bit of a downer but here is the GOOD NEWS – Exercise has been shown in studies to be equivalent and sometimes better than medication for chronic pain!
Why is exercise a good pain killer?
Have you ever jammed your finger in a door before? The pain is almost unbearable and what is the first thing you do? You start shaking your hand rapidly and squeezing your hand/fingers near where the injury is. Have you ever thought about why you do that? The reason it feels better is you are helping to override the pain signal to your brain. This is due to pressure/movement sensors in your hands sending information through nerves to your brain at the same time the pain signals are being sent. The pressure/movement information helps to dull the pain. This is one reason why exercise can also dull the sensation of pain.
Another reason exercise works to decrease pain is increased blood flow throughout the body brings more oxygen and nutrients to tissues and helps remove waste products of cell respiration like toxins and carbon dioxide. This along with increased temperature can help diminish pain perception.
Exercise can positively affect mental state which can diminish the perception of pain.
It is known that those suffering from depression may have an increased perception to pain and we know that exercise is also a great treatment for depression. If you can decrease your depressive state you will also likely increase you pain tolerance.
If you have ever exercised intensely you have felt the ‘high’ afterwards which can last 30 minutes to an hour post exercise. Your body is releasing endogenous (naturally formed) opioids. These opioids are very similar in molecular structure to prescription pain medication and just as effective! You have likely heard runners talk about the ‘runner’s high’. This natural high is available to anyone who pushes themselves into intense exercise. I feel this high twice a day. Once after my 10km ride into GoodLife Fitness Union Station and once again after my ride home. 🙂
Next time you are looking to get pain relief try exercising. Exercise may also become addictive but it might be the best addiction you could ever have!
This post is also featured on The GoodLife Fitness Blog