Low intensity blood flow restriction exercise: Rationale for a hypoalgesia effect

Luke Hughes*, Stephen David Patterson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Exercise-induced hypoalgesia is characterised by a reduction in pain sensitivity following exercise. Recently, low intensity exercise performed with blood flow restriction has been shown to induce hypoalgesia. The purpose of this manuscript is to discuss the mechanisms of exercise-induced hypoalgesia and provide rationale as to why low intensity exercise performed with blood flow restriction may induce hypoalgesia. Research into exercise-induced hypoalgesia has identified several potential mechanisms, including opioid and endocannabinoid-mediated pain inhibition, conditioned pain modulation, recruitment of high threshold motor units, exercise-induced metabolite production and an interaction between cardiovascular and pain regulatory systems. We hypothesise that several mechanisms consistent with prolonged high intensity exercise may drive the hypoalgesia effect observed with blood flow restriction exercise. These are likely triggered by the high level of intramuscular stress in the exercising muscle generated by blood flow restriction including hypoxia, accumulation of metabolites, accelerated fatigue onset and ischemic pain. Therefore, blood flow restriction exercise may induce hypoalgesia through similar mechanisms to prolonged higher intensity exercise, but at lower intensities, by changing local tissue physiology, highlighting the importance of the blood flow restriction stimulus. The potential to use blood flow restriction exercise as a pain modulation tool has important implications following acute injury and surgery, and for several load compromised populations with chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109370
JournalMedical Hypotheses
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes

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