Weight training can reduce pain

There is a lot of resistance to the use of weights as part of an exercise regimen, particularly by older individuals. I, too, had no interest in weight training until the past year when I realized how important weight training is to weight loss and overall fitness.

The issue of whether or not to include weights wouldn’t even be an issue if we were still in the “caveman age”, unable to sit back and allow our technological “advances” to do the work for us – no machine was going to help them move logs, drag animal carcasses, lift stones, or court a female by dragging her by the hair. Of course they didn’t live into their 80’s and 90’s, but then again they probably rubbed soil into their wounds, that is, if they survived the tiger/elephant/whatever attack. Now, we can artificially simulate all those stresses on the body with fancy equipment. backache

I came across a study highlighting another benefit of weight/strength training. Knutzen, et al.¹ explored the effect of a regular high-resistance strength training program on pain in a group of older individuals. Individuals aged 60-83 were randomized to two groups: one control group and one training group that performed a strength training regimen 3 times a week for 8 weeks. Pain scores were measured by various scales before and after the 8-week period and were based on the individuals self-assessment of pain.

Firstly, there was a significant improvement in strength with all exercises, anywhere from 54-119% improvement in strength. Secondly, there was indeed improvement in reported pain in the adults who participated in the strength training regimen, with approximately 50% reduction in severity of overall pain.

Why does strength training reduce pain? Our muscles require continual use to stay healthy – use it or lose it. When our muscles fall weak, there is greater pressure on our joints, but of course as we age our joints are not in tip-top shape due to a lifetime of wear and tear. Strengthening muscles around a joint takes pressure off of the joint – something I continually advocate for my patients with arthritis. This strengthening doesn’t mean just focusing on the locally involved joint, either, but rather focusing on whole body strength. For example, knee pain often occurs because of poor posture as a result of weak abdominal, back, and pelvic muscles. There will be far better benefit in strengthening those weak muscles than focusing on the muscles around the knee.

Unmentioned benefits of strength training in older adults also include increased metabolism, decreased risk of falls, increased energy, improved heart and lung function, and many more. Exercise has been shown over and over to dramatically improve overall quality of life, which often is greatly hampered by pain. No need to live in pain any longer – pick up those weights.

1. Knutzen, K.M., Pendergrast, B.A., Lindsey, B., and Brilla, L.R. The effect of high-resistance weight training on reported pain in older adults. Journal of Sports Science Medicine. 2007: 6, 455-460 <http://www.jssm.org&gt;.

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