Aerobic exercise at approximately 70% of maximal aerobic capacity moderately decreases pain sensitivity and attenuates pain, even after a single session. If the analgesic effects are dependent on exercise intensity, then high-intensity interval exercise at 85% of maximal aerobic capacity should further reduce pain. The aim of this study was to explore the exercise-induced analgesic effects of high-intensity interval aerobic exercise and to compare them with the analgesic effects of moderate continuous aerobic exercise. Twenty-nine young untrained healthy males were randomly assigned to aerobic-continuous (70% heart rate reserve (HRR)) and interval (4 × 4 min at 85% HRR and 2 min at 60% HRR between cycles) exercise modes, each lasting 30 min. Psychophysical pain tests, pressure and heat pain thresholds (HPT), and tonic heat pain (THP) were conducted prior to and following exercise sessions. Repeated measures ANOVA was used for data analysis. HPT increased (p = 0.056) and THP decreased (p = 0.013) following exercise unrelated to exercise type. However, the main time effect (pre-/postexercise) was a trend of increased HPT (45.6 ± 1.9 °C to 46.2 ± 1.8 °C; p = 0.082) and a significantly decreased THP (from 50.7 ± 25 to 45.9 ± 25.4 numeric pain scale; p = 0.043) following interval exercise. No significant change was found for the pressure pain threshold after either exercise type.
In conclusion, interval exercise (85% HRR) has analgesic effects on experimental pain perception. This, in addition to its cardiovascular, muscular, and metabolic advantages could promote its inclusion in pain management programs.