Niahm Moloney (left) with Rob Smeets in the focused symposium on chronic pain

Pain: can the brain be retrained?

The benefits of exercise to combat chronic pain was the focus of a symposium session today, where Niamh Moloney from Australia explored the relationship between physical activity and mood, anxiety and stress.

“It may be that some of us really need physical activity to maintain mood and a healthy response to stressors,” said Niamh, a lecturer in physiotherapy at the University of Sydney. 
She said studies on workplace physical activity and mood indicated that yoga had the greatest effect on countering anxiety, depression and stress – although the findings had to be viewed cautiously because of small study samples. 
So which exercise for your patient? she asked. She suggested being guided by a biopsychosocial assessments. Each person should help decide which exercise is most appropriate for them. “We need to think about exercise in a broader way than we traditionally do in physical therapy,” she said.
The focused symposium session was entitled “Exercise therapy for chronic pain: retraining mind and brain.  
Other speakers were:
  • Rob Smeets from the Netherlands, who spoke about exercise therapy targeting pain cognitions and movement-related fear
  • Mark Bishop from the United States, who examined the overlooked role of non-specific factors in exercise therapy 
  • Jo Nijs from Belgium, who examined central sensitisation