Training Day Gym Educational Article - Training with Pain by Dr Sarah Elston

Training with pain

Pain and injuries happen. It’s frustrating, but it doesn’t always mean time away from training. More often than not, movement is an important step in your recovery from injury or managing your pain.  Below are some tips to help you through, but ultimately, don’t be stubborn and don’t mess around with pain too much. If your pain is worsening, remains unchanged or you get a sudden acute onset of pain while doing an activity, stop the activity and seek the opinion of a health professional.

1.       Change what you are doing.

Pain isn’t always a reason to stop training completely. It is always a reason to change what you are doing. First rule of pain, if it hurts, don’t do it! Do something else instead.

2.       Focus on recovery

Increase your rest periods between sets and increase your rest between training days. Allow your body time to recover. Give yourself the best chance of healing by ensuring you get adequate sleep, focus on proper nutrition, like getting adequate protein and carbohydrate intake and try to decrease your stress levels.

3.       Learn what aggravates your pain

Certain positions, certain movements and sometimes certain loads will aggravate pain. Others will make you feel better. Learn what triggers your pain. If you get low back pain when you extend (bend backwards) but not when you flex (bend forwards) stick with exercises that involve flexion and not extension. If you get pain when you do a deep squat, but not when you do a partial squat, keep doing the partial squats. If you get pain when you increase your loads, but not at lighter loads, keep the weight light.

4.       The ‘Pain Scale’

As a guide using a pain scale can really help determine whether you should train or not.

Level 0-3: You’re good to go. There’s no real reason to make too many modifications. Providing the pain doesn’t worsen after the activity.

Level 4-6: This region of pain is questionable. You’ll need to decrease your intensity, load and the range of motion you move through. You can still train.

Level 7-10: Stop and seek advice. When you’re getting this level of pain, you need to stop. You need to get a health professional to help to check you out. This doesn’t always mean you have to stop training completely. For example, if you’re getting really bad knee pain, you can still train your upper body.

5.       Rest isn’t always the answer

All too often, rest is advised or people use pain as an excuse to stop training completely. More often than not, some type of movement is better than no movement at all. That said, sometimes (but rarely), complete rest is necessary. Certain exercises will always help with different pain and injuries. This is known as exercise induced analgesia (exercise that helps decrease pain). Just consult with a health professional (not google) about what you can and can’t do if you are experiencing pain. 

6.       Don’t ignore pain.

Pain is your body’s way of telling you something or something you are doing isn’t right for you. Something is going wrong. Stop and listen to your body. Pain is always there for a reason. Getting it checked over by a health professional, like a chiropractor, myotherapist, physiotherapist or even a good coach, is always a good idea. Especially when it’s ‘just a niggle.’ So many times, I see people debilitated by pain which started out as ‘just a niggle’, which ends up in extended time off training. Getting little things checked over as they arise can save you a lot of time away from training, pain and money in the long run.


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