The Impact of Physical Activity on Pain Intensity in Cancer Survivors

A recent study sheds light on the potential benefits of physical activity in alleviating pain intensity among cancer survivors. Published in the peer-reviewed journal CANCER by Wiley online, the research, led by Erika Rees-Punia, PhD, MPH, from the American Cancer Society, and Christopher T.V. Swain, PhD, from the University of Melbourne, Australia, offers insights into the role of exercise in managing post-cancer pain.

While the positive effects of physical activity on various types of pain are well-documented, its specific impact on cancer-related pain has remained uncertain. To address this gap, the researchers analyzed data from 51,439 adults without a cancer history and 10,651 adults who had previously been diagnosed with cancer. Participants were asked to rate their average pain level on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst imaginable pain), and to report their typical physical activity.

In line with U.S. guidelines recommending moderate-intensity aerobic activity for 150 to 300 minutes per week, or vigorous-intensity activity for 75 to 150 minutes per week, the study assessed participants’ adherence to these recommendations.

The findings revealed a significant association between increased physical activity and reduced pain intensity, regardless of participants’ cancer history. This suggests that exercise may play a role in mitigating cancer-related pain, akin to its effects on other types of pain.

Among individuals with a history of cancer, those surpassing physical activity guidelines were 16% less likely to report moderate-to-severe pain compared to those not meeting the guidelines. Additionally, individuals who maintained consistent physical activity or adopted it later in life reported lower levels of pain compared to those who remained inactive.

In summary, the study underscores the potential of physical activity as a non-pharmacological intervention for managing pain among cancer survivors. Further research is warranted to explore the mechanisms underlying this relationship and to optimize exercise-based interventions for improved pain management in this population.