Facts about Pain: How exercise impacts your pain!

2013 is here and cruising along. The conclusion of the holidays and the start of a new year always leads to a growing tradition. New workout clothes, new shoes, new gym memberships, and an intense commitment to exercise that lasts for all of…..one month. What a great time for new injuries to appear! We bring to you another edition of facts about pain, the brain and nervous system and its relationship to exercise.

When we look at the functions of the human body most, if not all, are governed by the autonomic nervous system. Think back to high school biology and you will quickly remember  how the autonomic nervous system is made up of 2 different systems: sympathetic (Sy) and parasympathetic (PS). In simpler terms, we can often define these two systems as ‘fight or flight’ (Sy) or ‘rest and digest’ (PS). Each have an integral role in managing our ability to handle work, life, children, and exercise! Some would argue that managing pain=managing the autonomic nervous system.  Exercise has a large impact on many areas of these two systems!


In most situations, exercise provides a great opportunity for this. Did you know?…..

1) The nervous system is blood thirsty! 25% of your hearts output (blood pumped) goes to feed the nervous system! Movement is important!

2) Nerves need three things: Movement, Space and Blood!

3) Research has shown that when we pump blood and oxygen around nerves, they actually calm down.

4) Exercise that promotes blood flow, like aerobic exercise, tends to calm nerve signals down over time.

5) Pain and stress are often associated with increased levels of adrenaline. Exercise can help to reduce levels of adrenaline.

6) When healthy people exercise, the brain activates a number of pathways that often inhibit the perception of pain. This often makes it less likely that we will feel pain during, or immediately following, exercise.

7) Pain will alter muscle activity often in a negative manner. This is a sympathetic, or ‘fight or flight’ response. Your brain is preparing you to ‘escape’.

8) Pain often inhibits our ability to breath efficiently. We will see shorter, shallower breaths!

9) Shallow breathing means you aren’t recruiting the diaphragm (think breathing through your belly). Deep diaphragmatic breathing tends to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and decrease sympathetic tone.  Strong reasons for why people enjoy yoga, pilates, and other movement based exercise program.s

10) Muscle activity can be impacted even when the pain resolves. An example of this is when the pain is gone from surgery, but your muscles feel weak.

11) Pain resulting from exercise doesn’t necessarily mean harm; it means your nervous system is trying to protect you.

12) Imagined movements activate many of the same brain areas as actual movements!



Continued support for the power of exercise, physical therapy, and general fitness!