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Obese people are more sensitive to pain, suggests study

COLUMBUS , Ohio Obese people may be more sensitive to pain than people who aren't obese, a new study suggests.

All of the older adults who completed the study had osteoarthritis of the knee, a disease that causes inflammation and extreme pain in the knees.

Participants were given a mild electrical stimulation on their left ankle to measure their pain reflex. The stimulus was given before and after the participants took part in a 45-minute coping skills training session that included a progressive muscle relaxation exercise.

The obese patients showed a greater physical response to the electrical stimulation than did the non-obese people, both before and after the training session. This indicates they had a lower tolerance for the painful stimulation despite reporting, in questionnaires, that they felt no more pain than non-obese people.

"The relaxation procedure helped both groups cope with pain," said Charles Emery, the study's lead author and a professor of psychology at Ohio State University. "Additionally, our tests showed both groups had higher physical pain thresholds after the relaxation session. But the obese participants still had a lower threshold for tolerating the pain."

"This is important because if an obese person begins an exercise program, he may not cognitively experience pain when in fact it is hurting the body on some level," Emery said. "That could lead to severe pain down the road."

Emery and his colleagues presented their findings on March 4 in Denver at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society.

The researchers wanted to see if coping skills training, including progressive relaxation techniques would help people with osteoarthritis to better cope with the pain that the disease can cause. Also called degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis affects more than 20 million people in the United States.

But they were particularly interested in seeing how the obese group
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Contact: Charles Emery
emery@psy.ohio-state.edu
614-688-3061
Ohio State University
1-Mar-2006


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