To make sense of this, there are a few key concepts that we need to explain.
Another more recent study in 2019 showed that following a standard rehab protocol within pain-threshold limits resulted in greater recovery of muscle strength and length compared to completely pain-free rehab.
It can be safe to exercise with pain. It is ok to want to avoid pain flare-ups while still exercising, for example, if you have lower back pain, you may look for exercises that don’t aggravate it, such as inclined push-ups, bench presses, leg presses, assisted chin-ups and so on, so that you can maintain your fitness and strength while staying in a comfortable range.
Exercising with pain (within your pain threshold) can benefit short-term pain and long-term function and healing.
The below guide can be used for exercising with pain:
It’s important to know that your pain/symptoms should settle quickly back to baseline levels after exercise (within 24 hours), and you should not feel increased pain or stiffness the following morning. If your pain does not return to baseline within that time frame, you may need to modify your training intensity or frequency.
Your body is resilient and adaptable, and loading your muscles and joints when rehabilitating is important in returning to full function and being pain-free. However, even though the above guide can be beneficial, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis from your onsite injury healthcare provider to ensure it is safe to exercise with your pain.
Click below to download our Exercising With Pain poster.
Bement MKH & Sluka KA (2016). Exercise‐induced analgesia: an evidence‐based review In Mechanisms and Management of Pain for the Physical Therapist, 2nd edn, ed. Sluka KA, Ch. 10. pp. 177–201. Wolters Kuwer, IASP Press, Seattle
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