Does aerobic exercise effect pain sensitisation in individuals with musculoskeletal pain? A systematic review

Review written by Dr Sandy Hilton info

Key Points

  1. Aerobic exercise reduces pain sensitization for musculoskeletal pain.
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Pain continues to be a global burden with cost to individuals and society. It is critical that clinicians are operating with the best evidence and that we are using that evidence to design individualized treatment plans to relieve pain and restore function. Despite decades of study and continued increase in the understanding of pain, there is not yet evidence of how best to change the sensation of pain itself, or even agreement on if pain is a sensation or a perception!

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain sensation as “an increased responsiveness of nociceptive neurons to their normal input and/or recruitment of a response to normally subthreshold inputs” (1). Current therapies targeting pain sensation are primarily pharmacological. The use of isometric exercise has been shown to have promise of success in stimulating exercise-induced hypoalgesia (2,3).

This systematic review aimed to provide clarity on if aerobic activity can also affect pain sensitization, and if so, what type and dosage is associated with a change in pain sensitization.

Pain continues to be a global burden with cost to individuals and society.
This paper shows that a variety of exercise and dosing approaches may achieve reduced pain sensitization.


  • The review was conducted according to 2020 PRISMA guidelines and included adults 18 years of age and over.
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