The relationship between habitual physical activity (PA) and experimental pain tolerance has been investigated in small samples of young, healthy and/or single-sex volunteers. We used a large, population-based sample to assess this relationship in men and women with and without chronic pain.
We used data from the sixth and seventh Tromsø Study surveys (2007-2008; 2015-2016), with assessed pain tolerance of participants with the cold pressor test (CPT: dominant hand in circulating cold water at 3°C, maximum test time 106 s), and self-reported total amount of habitual PA in leisure time (n = 19,087), exercise frequency (n = 19,388), exercise intensity (n = 18,393) and exercise duration (n = 18,343). A sub-sample had PA measured by accelerometers (n = 4,922). We used Cox regression to compare CPT tolerance times between self-reported PA levels. For accelerometer-measured PA, we estimated hazard ratios for average daily activity counts, and for average daily minutes of moderate-to-vigorous PA done in bouts lasting 10 min or more. Models were tested for PA-sex, and PA-chronic pain and PA-moderate-to-severe chronic pain interactions.
Leisure-time PA, exercise intensity and exercise duration were positively associated with CPT tolerance (p