The effects of an acute bout of sub-maximal aerobic exercise on neuropathic pain and feelings of pleasure for persons with SCI: An exploratory case series


Introduction: Neuropathic pain (NP) affects approximately 50% of persons with spinal cord injury (SCI) and can be attributed to both physiological (e.g., spinal hyperexcitability) and psychological factors (e.g., affect). Exercise has been shown to reduce NP sensations for persons with SCI, and simultaneously increase feelings of pleasure. However, these effects have not been examined following a controlled bout of exercise. This study examined how NP and feelings of pleasure change from pre- to post- submaximal aerobic exercise versus quiet rest. Methods: This study employed a case series design. Six active individuals with SCI completed the Neuropathic Pain Scale (NPS) and Feeling Scale (FS) pre- and immediately post- 30 minutes of submaximal (60% VO2peak) arm-crank ergometry. One week later, participants completed the same measures pre- and post 30 minutes of quiet rest. Descriptive statistics were computed to evaluate changes in NPS and FS scores in each condition. Results: Three participants reported a greater decrease in NP sensations after exercise, compared with quiet rest. In contrast, one participant reported an increase in NP sensations following exercise compared with quiet rest. Regarding FS scores, one participant reported increased feelings of pleasure post-exercise. Similarly, one participant reported increased feelings of pleasure following quiet rest. Conclusion: These results suggest that a bout of exercise can reduce NP sensations, and improve feelings of pleasure for some persons with SCI. The heterogeneous pattern of results highlights the need for further research to evaluate relationships between specific exercise prescriptions, NP, and feelings of pleasure for persons with SCI.

Acknowledgments: This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.