Professors test how exercise affects pain perception

It is the age of pain, where researchers, doctors and psychologists alike are charting out the unknown: the relationship between pain and the human body.

Dr. Brandon Baiamonte of psychology joined forces with Dr. Daniel Hollander and Dr. Robert Kraemer in the Kinesiology Department to research the effects of exercise on pain perception.

“It is difficult to pinpoint the exact inspiration for the project because it was a collaborative effort,” said Baiamonte. “Previous research has focused on aerobic exercise and failed to extensively study the effects of resistance exercise on pain perception, which is what we wanted to address with this current study.”

Resistance exercises mainly involve an individual engaging in workouts that include weights or applying resistance to the body.

The three-month experiment was completed during the 2015 spring semester and involved a two day process, each day separated by a week.

The first day, participants had to complete the necessary paperwork for the study.

“The protocol required participants to complete two separate days of exercise,” said Baiamonte. “On the first day, all participants were screened for any health issues by completing a medical history questionnaire.  The current study involves an intensive exercise regimen and excellent health was imperative for the safety of all participants.”

In addition to completing the medical background checks, participants had to find their three repetition maximum weights for each exercise in the circuit, which was used as a benchmark for the second day.

“The amount of weight lifted was used to estimate a one repetition maximum that will be utilized on the second day of the experiment,” said Baiamonte.

On the second day of the experiment, approximately one week after the first day, participants completed three rounds of nine different exercises. These exercises included leg presses, military presses, lateral pull downs, rows, leg extensions, planks, lunges and abdominal rollouts.

60 percent of the estimated one maximum repetition calculated from first day was used for all weighted lifts. 

The circuit had a full body workout approach, requiring participants to engage in a lower body movement, followed by a core exercise and then, an upper body exercise.

Participants went through the circuit three times, each exercise requiring 12 reps.

“This circuit was completed three times and the participants completed 12 repetitions of each movement in 45 seconds with 45 seconds of rest between movements,” said Baiamonte.

Between each movement, the 24 participants were measured for heart rate and perceived exertion.  In addition, pain perception and blood lactate were measured before the exercise and one minute, five minutes, and 15 minutes after completion of the entire exercise regimen.

Because exercise intensity and an elevated heart rate have been connected to changes in pain perception in previous studies, heart rate was measured with a monitor that was connected to the participant throughout the workout.

Participants’ perception of exercise intensity was measured using The Rating of Perceived Exertion, which is a scale used to gauge how much individuals exert themselves.

Pain perception was tested by the experimenter applying pressure to the individual’s non-dominant hand’s pressure point until the pain became intolerable.

Blood lactate was measured by poking each participant’s fingertip to collect a drop a blood. 

After collecting the data gathered from the experiment, Baiamonte and his colleagues found    when compared to normal circumstances, an individual will be able to tolerate more pain immediately following resistance exercises.  The alteration in pain perception of an individual occurs in relation to the changes in the other factors measured in the experiment:  heart rate, perception of exercise intensity and blood lactate.

Baiamonte, Hollander and Kraemer plan to continue this experiment on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder patients who take medications that have been known to increase exercise performance and possibly altering the effects of resistance exercise on pain perception.