Exercise Alters Pain Sensitivity in Gulf Veterans with Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain


Senior Member
These researchers found that after exercise people with gulf war illness become more sensitive to pain following exercise but they try to spin it in the abstract to suggest exercise will help in the long-term (but they didn't test that! It may not be the case)

Exercise Alters Pain Sensitivity in Gulf War Veterans with Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain.

Cook DB, Stegner AJ, Ellingson LD.

Research Service, William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, Madison, Wisconsin; Department of Kinesiology, University of Wisconsin, Madison,Wisconsin.

Since returning from the Persian Gulf, nearly 100,000 veterans of the first Gulf War (GVs) have reported numerous symptoms with no apparent medical explanation. A primary complaint of these individuals is chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP). CMP symptoms in GVs are similar to those reported by patients with fibromyalgia (FM), but have not received equivalent scientific attention.

Exercise research in CMP patients suggests that acute exercise may exacerbate pain while chronic exercise can reduce pain and improve other symptoms. However, the influence of exercise on GVs with CMP is largely unexplored.

This study examined the impact of an acute bout of exercise on pain sensitivity in GVs with CMP. Thirty-two GVs (CMP, n = 15; Control, n = 17) were recruited to complete a series of psychophysical assessments to determine pain sensitivity to heat and pressure stimuli before and after exercise. In response to heat-pain stimuli, GVs with CMP reported higher pain intensity and affect ratings than healthy GVs and exhibited a significant increase in ratings following exercise. GVs with CMP rated exercise as more painful and effortful and were generally more sensitive to heat-pain stimuli than healthy GVs. These results are similar to what has been reported for acute exercise in patients with FM.

PERSPECTIVE: Gulf War veterans with CMP perceive exercise as more painful and effortful than healthy GVs and experience increased pain sensitivity following exercise. These results suggest that similar abnormalities in central nervous system processing of nociceptive information documented in FM may also be occurring in GVs with CMP.

J Pain. 2010 Mar 23. [Epub ahead of print]


Senior Member
Previous research on Gulf War veterans

There was previously a big study that found that neither CBT nor GET improved pain levels in Gulf War veterans:

Cognitive behavioral therapy and aerobic exercise for Gulf War veterans' illnesses: a randomized controlled trial.

JAMA. 2003 Mar 19;289(11):1396-404.

Donta ST, Clauw DJ, Engel CC Jr, Guarino P, Peduzzi P, Williams DA, Skinner JS, Barkhuizen A, Taylor T, Kazis LE, Sogg S, Hunt SC, Dougherty CM, Richardson RD, Kunkel C, Rodriguez W, Alicea E, Chiliade P, Ryan M, Gray GC, Lutwick L, Norwood D, Smith S, Everson M, Blackburn W, Martin W, Griffiss JM, Cooper R, Renner E, Schmitt J, McMurtry C, Thakore M, Mori D, Kerns R, Park M, Pullman-Mooar S, Bernstein J, Hershberger P, Salisbury DC, Feussner JR; VA Cooperative Study #470 Study Group.

Comment in:

JAMA. 2003 Mar 19;289(11):1436-7.
J Fam Pract. 2003 Jun;52(6):441-2.

CONTEXT: Gulf War veterans' illnesses (GWVI), multisymptom illnesses characterized by persistent pain, fatigue, and cognitive symptoms, have been reported by many Gulf War veterans. There are currently no effective therapies available to treat GWVI.

OBJECTIVE: To compare the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exercise, and the combination of both for improving physical functioning and reducing the symptoms of GWVI.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PATIENTS: Randomized controlled 2 x 2 factorial trial conducted from April 1999 to September 2001 among 1092 Gulf War veterans who reported at least 2 of 3 symptom types (fatigue, pain, and cognitive) for more than 6 months and at the time of screening. Treatment assignment was unmasked except for a masked assessor of study outcomes at each clinical site (18 Department of Veterans Affairs [VA] and 2 Department of Defense [DOD] medical centers).

INTERVENTIONS: Veterans were randomly assigned to receive usual care (n = 271), consisting of any and all care received from inside or outside the VA or DOD health care systems; CBT plus usual care (n = 286); exercise plus usual care (n = 269); or CBT plus exercise plus usual care (n = 266). Exercise sessions were 60 minutes and CBT sessions were 60 to 90 minutes; both met weekly for 12 weeks.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary end point was a 7-point or greater increase (improvement) on the Physical Component Summary scale of the Veterans Short Form 36-Item Health Survey at 12 months. Secondary outcomes were standardized measures of pain, fatigue, cognitive symptoms, distress, and mental health functioning. Participants were evaluated at baseline and at 3, 6, and 12 months.

RESULTS: The percentage of veterans with improvement in physical function at 1 year was 11.5% for usual care, 11.7% for exercise alone, 18.4% for CBT plus exercise, and 18.5% for CBT alone. The adjusted odds ratios (OR) for improvement in exercise, CBT, and exercise plus CBT vs usual care were 1.07 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.63-1.82), 1.72 (95% CI, 0.91-3.23), and 1.84 (95% CI, 0.95-3.55), respectively. The OR for the overall (marginal) effect of receiving CBT (n = 552) vs no CBT (n = 535) was 1.71 (95% CI, 1.15-2.53) and for exercise (n = 531) vs no exercise (n = 556) was 1.07 (95% CI, 0.76-1.50). For secondary outcomes, exercise alone or in combination with CBT significantly improved fatigue, distress, cognitive symptoms, and mental health functioning, while CBT alone significantly improved cognitive symptoms and mental health functioning. Neither treatment had a significant impact on pain.

CONCLUSION: Our results suggest that CBT and/or exercise can provide modest relief for some of the symptoms of chronic multisymptom illnesses such as GWVI.