BACKGROUND: Exercise, a cornerstone in current treatments for people with musculoskeletal pain, elicits a phenomenon called exercise-induced hypoalgesia (EIH), which may result in reduced pain intensity and/or increased pain thresholds. However, EIH can be impaired in patients with musculoskeletal pain, and psychosocial factors may play a mediating role in EIH.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to systematically review the scientific literature regarding the association between psychosocial factors and EIH in healthy people and people with musculoskeletal pain.
METHODS: An extensive search in databases including Medline Ovid, Embase, Web of Science, PsycINFO Ovid, and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) EBSCOhost was carried out. Two reviewers independently carried out study selection, data extraction, and critical appraisal. Included studies analyzed the association or effect of psychosocial factors on EIH in adults with or without musculoskeletal pain.
RESULTS: Nine cross-sectional studies were included, 6 involving healthy people and 4 involving people with musculoskeletal pain; 1 study included both. Overall risk of bias was high. Different types of exercise bouts, psychosocial factors, and/or outcome measures were used across studies. In healthy people and people with musculoskeletal pain, most studies did not find an association between psychosocial factors and EIH. However, 1 study involving musculoskeletal pain and 2 studies with healthy people did find a significant association.
CONCLUSION: Due to poor quality and heterogeneity between studies, no conclusions can be drawn regarding whether psychosocial factors are associated with EIH or not. This review includes recommendations and directions for further research to investigate the role of psychosocial factors on EIH.