Is it okay to exercise with pain? We get asked this question a lot in our virtual physio clinic. We wish the answer was as simple as yes or no. The reality is that pain is a really complex experience and difficult to even define. Moreover, pain science research has evolved a lot in the past decade, which leads to a lot of misinformation from online pseudo-health websites. If you are concerned about pain in your body, always consult with a professional that you trust.
So, let’s get to it. Should you exercise with pain? The short answer is...it depends.
What We Know (And Don’t Know) About Pain
As mentioned, pain science is a rapidly changing body of knowledge. This is good news because as a profession it draws us closer to a better understanding of pain management.
One thing is certain, which is that the medicalization of pain is no longer sufficient for effective treatment. The body is not a machine that can be fixed. Each person is unique. As we discussed previously on the blog, psychosocial factors play a huge role in recovery, and these factors need to be considered. These factors, such as recovery, stress, fear of re-injury and social isolation due to the injury play a huge role in the healing process.
Pain is a protective mechanism against harm. We have an internal alarm system that alerts us—through the experience of pain—to change our behaviours. At its root, this alarm comes from our nervous system when it senses danger. The body is a deeply complex, interrelated and fascinating system.
Yet, the alert system of pain isn’t a complete system. It doesn’t tell us everything. Pain isn’t a guidebook that tells us what is wrong, where the harm is, or how to fix it. In fact, where we experience pain isn’t necessarily where the problem is.
The exception to this is injuries to our skin. If we get a papercut, we have a pretty clear sense of what is wrong (the skin is broken), where the injury is (the tip of the index finger), and how to fix it (clean the wound and bandage it). When it comes to internal pain, identification and treatment is much more complex.
Back Off, Then Build Up
Each person experiences pain and responds to treatment differently. There is no one-size fits all when it comes to pain management. Let’s be clear, though, that if you are experiencing a relatively new and extreme pain, it’s best to back off temporarily.
In general, it’s okay to continue exercise if:
- You experience pain at the beginning of exercise
- The pain dissipates during the workout
- You do not have pain the next day
It’s probably time to switch up your routine if:
- You experience pain after you being exercise
- The pain gets worse throughout the movement
- You have pain the next day
If you experience the latter, ease off. Seek the advice of professionals. But it’s important to ease back into that activity gradually, along with accessory exercises prescribed by a physiotherapist. While it can seem like common sense to not return to an exercise that caused pain, it can actually do more harm than good to stop movement altogether.
Remember, pain is an internal communication tool. Some discomfort is okay. Listen to the feedback your body is giving you, and discern how much discomfort feels okay to work through. Our bodies are built to adapt, but it takes time. Recovery and progress aren’t linear, so be patient and keep at it.
Get in Touch
It’s important to talk to a physiotherapist to decide which treatment plan is best for you.
If you are experiencing pain and are concerned about healthy movement, get in touch with us. As always, we are available for Virtual Physio through TelePhysio services, and your first session is free.