Taking part in regular exercise is one way the multiple sclerosis sufferers can help reduce their pain. (Photo courtesy: AFP Relaxnews/ klohka/ shutterstock.com)
New research has shown how a healthy lifestyle of eating well, regular exercise, and no smoking can help reduce pain in people with multiple sclerosis.
An estimated 2.5 million people worldwide have multiple sclerosis (MS), a condition that affects the nervous system, often causing chronic pain and a lack of mobility.
Although pain from MS can be treated with painkillers, the medication can also have unwanted side effects and does not treat the cause of the pain.
To look for other potential interventions, Claudia Marck and colleagues at the University of Melbourne, Australia, looked at how modifiable lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise are associated with pain in MS — a relationship that has not previously been researched in detail.
The team surveyed more than 2,500 people with multiple sclerosis from across the world on their symptoms, lifestyle and social demographics, finding strong associations between lifestyle choices and levels of pain.
Smokers were found to be twice as likely to report substantial pain than non-smokers with MS, with Marck explaining that, “In the long term, smoking has been reported to increase the likelihood of chronic pain.”
“However, in the short term it dulls the pain, so this may motivate people with pain to smoke. Also, smokers, and especially those with depression, find it particularly hard to quit, as stopping smoking can initially increase pain sensitivity.”
The results also showed that regular exercise also had a beneficial effect on pain, although Marck acknowledged that, like quitting smoking, physical activity may be difficult for MS sufferers.
“As you might imagine, people are less likely to exercise if they are in pain,” she explained, “But on the other hand, exercise has been shown many times over to be beneficial in terms of pain symptoms. Increased physical activity can increase pain threshold and tolerance, and so reduce the experience of pain.”
Previous studies have also shown that exercise has neuroprotective and neuroregenerative effects, particularly important for those with MS as the condition causes the nerves lose their protective myelin coating.
The team also found strong links between pain and the prevalence of anxiety and depression, two conditions for which people with MS are at higher risk of developing.
“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be hard for us all. For those with MS it is even more important as they have a higher risk of having poorer health and developing other conditions such as cardiovascular problems and diabetes. For those who struggle to initiate or maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors, seeking the support of a health professional will be invaluable,” concluded Marck.
The results can be found published online in Frontiers in Neurology.