Endorphins are brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters whose function is to transmit electrical signals within the nervous system. Endorphins are located in the brain and throughout the nervous system.

Endorphins bind to opiate receptors in the brain and the rest of the nervous system to lower our perception of pain. This effect is similar to opiates or narcotics such as morphine, codeine, etc. The major difference is that activation of the opiate receptors by the body's natural endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence. In contrast, opiate or narcotic drugs commonly lead to addiction and dependence.

Besides decreasing the sensation of pain, the body's release of natural endorphins also results in feelings of euphoria, improved immune function and enhances our ability to handle stress. The best news is that the body produces endorphins in response to continuous exercise. A simple walking exercise program, three days per week or more, will increase your body's production of endorphins and decrease your pain. To avoid injury, walk on flat ground and avoid hills.

Tania Faruque MD is the medical director of Palomar Spine & Pain, in Escondido, CA (North San Diego County).

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