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Chronic pain is a significant problem for many older adults. Strategies for pain management appear to be limited, with the prescription of analgesic medication used most often to treat pain. Older adults, however, are often sensitive to adverse side effects from analgesic medications, so nonpharmacological strategies for treating pain are receiving increased attention. This review article summarizes results from studies that have examined whether improvements in pain occur after an exercise intervention. Limited research has been conducted, and it can be characterized as both experimental and quasi-experimental. In addition, pain has usually been a secondary variable assessed in conjunction with a number of other variables. Results from most studies indicate that improvement in pain can occur after exercise training, but several investigators did not find changes in pain after an exercise-training program. Even less research has been conducted with older adults residing in assisted-care facilities, and this research is limited by small sample sizes.
The author is with the Dept, of Kinesiology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706-1189.