Movement, Pain, and Hormones

by humam, August 11, 2017


“Movement is to the body as reading is to the mind”- Some Google Quote.

Although the author is unknown, this is one of the best quotes I use in my clinic to motivate patients of all ages and conditions to move with intention and move often. When we see ourselves and observe others exercise, it appears to be a simple task but there are a multitude of biological, physiological, and hormonal changes that occur with exercise. Although we could talk at nauseam about the benefits of exercise, this article is more geared towards movement and its role in hormone secretion and in the pain cycle.

We can heal ourselves. In the human body, there is a cycle called the “Endogenous Opoid System.” One word that everyone generally recognizes in this system is Opoid. The term Opoid is not specifically reserved for prescription drugs; it is actually a biological term that describes a molecule that specifically binds to receptors in the body which blunt the sensation of pain. Interestingly enough, this system is more effectively stimulated with higher intensity exercise >75% of Vo2Max (4).

According to the President’s Council on Fitness,Sports, and Nutrition: “Less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day; only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week.”

Not you’re Teenagers Hormones. Let’s shift gears and talk about the hormonal influence that exercise has on the human body. Hormones are essentially naturally occurring substances that are regulated by specific glands that all have a specific job to do within the body. And the cool thing is that we can influence how our body releases these chemicals through exercise.

  Brain-Dervied Neurotrophic Factor: This is a neurotransmitter that aids in the stimulation of new brain           cells.  The production of this hormone is intimately connected with production of other hormones such as Human     Growth Factor & Insulin Growth Factor.

  Testosterone: The majority of this hormone is produced in the male testes and ovaries in females.  This hormone is mainly responsible for protein resynthesis and repair of skeletal muscle.

  Insulin-like Growth Factor: This hormone is stimulated through a variety of metabolic processes. This hormone has a similar relationship with Human Growth Factor that insulin does with glucose. Insulin acts as the key to signal glucose to enter a cell, and IGF aids HGF in protein synthesis.(1)

Human Growth Hormone (HGH): This hormone acts directly on muscles and tissues to promote growth or more scientifically put “Anabolism.” This hormone is stimulated most effectively by very high loads of exercise(2), generally 75% of 1 RM (Repetition Maximum ), and rest period with training directly change the release of this hormone (5,6). Not only is this hormone critical for improving muscle mass and physical function, it is released mostly at night so rest is vital.


Cortisol: Probably the most famous of all the hormones, Cortisol acts as a catabolic agent in the human body, essentially meaning it breaks down tissue. With higher intensity exercises, Cortisol is released in higher volumes (3) which may be detrimental or beneficial based on your goals. This hormone can break down fat but can also have a negative impact on your body and is intimately involved in the human stress response.

To Summarize:  Pain is a complex and multi-dimensional topic and includes much more then I can cover in one blog article. We have an innate and natural means of healing ourselves through exercise and movement. With a little science we can leverage these concepts listed above, move more, move often, and move with less pain.

-Chad Shafer, DPT, CSCS



  1. Kahn, SM, Hyrb DJ, Nakhla AM, et. al. Sex hormone-binding globulin is synthesized in target cells. J Endocrinol 2002;175:113-120

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