Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Values in Science Affect What Your Doctor Recommends

Credit: RFBSIP/Adobe

Credit: RFBSIP/Adobe

By Claire Hooker

Should a GP recommend exercise to chronic pain patients when the evidence doesn't match patient experience?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A GP is facing a common quandary: whether or not to recommend exercise to a patient suffering from chronic pain. The GP knows that many experimental studies have found that exercise temporarily reduces pain, a phenomenon called

“exercise-induced hypoalgesia” (EIH). The scientists involved in the studies have suggested that EIH might therefore be a way of helping patients who experience chronic pain, but our GP also knows that chronic pain patients often say that they experience no reductions in pain after exercise. A fair few even say they experience increased pain. So the GP is facing a difference between a fact established by scientific research, and the experience of her patients.

The GP notes that the EIH studies are experimental. The scientists have not simply asked people how they feel after exercise – they have used the scientific method of controlling other factors in order to measure changes in a single factor. They have measured pain as objectively as possible, by measuring (in milliseconds) the length of time a subject tolerates an uncomfortable sensation of heat, cold or pressure before they pull their hand or foot away. The phenomenon of EIH is a scientific fact established in many studies like this.

However, if the GP looks a bit more closely at the scientific research, she will notice that the science is not as simple as it first...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.