Exercise increases pressure pain thresholds (PPT) in pain-free individuals, known as exercise-induced hypoalgesia (EIH). Positive preexercise information can elicit higher EIH responses, but the effect of positive versus negative preexercise information on EIH is unknown. The primary aim of this randomized controlled trial was to compare EIH at the exercising thigh muscle after an isometric squat exercise between individuals receiving positive versus negative preexercise information about the effect of exercise on pain. Secondary aims were to compare EIH at nonexercising muscles between groups, and to investigate the relationship between participants’ expectations and EIH.
Eighty-three participants were randomly assigned to brief positive (n = 28), neutral (n = 28) or negative (n = 27) verbal information. The neutral information group was included in the study as a reference group. Pressure pain thresholds at the thigh and trapezius muscles were assessed before and after the intervention (i.e., preexercise information+squat exercise). Expectations of pain relief were assessed using a numerical rating scale (−10 [most negative] to 10 [most positive]).
Change in quadriceps and trapezius PPT after the squat exercise showed a large difference between the positive and negative information groups (quadriceps, 102 kPa; 95% confidence interval, 55–150; effect size, 1.2; trapezius, 41 kPa; 95% confidence interval, 16–65; effect size:, 0.9). The positive information group had a 22% increase in quadriceps PPT whereas the negative information group had a 4% decrease. A positive correlation was found between expectations and increase in PPT.
Negative preexercise information caused hyperalgesia after the wall squat exercise, whereas positive or neutral preexercise information caused hypoalgesia. Positive preexercise information did not change the magnitude of EIH compared with neutral information.