Exercise and the Pain Response

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By Dr. Roya Salehoun
Published on September 30, 2012
When exercise causes pain

Working out with pain

Everyone has heard the saying “no pain, no gain”. This may be true in terms of a healthy individual and when it refers to muscle burn with exercise. Be sure to differentiate between “pain” and delayed muscle “soreness”. “No pain, no gain” is not true when one has been injured. In this case, it may be better said that only those who exercise with pain are those who have no brain. When performing your rehabilitation program, you should only exercise in a pain-free range. If there is always a bit of pain present, as is true after an injury or surgery, then you should never do exercise that creates more pain or increases your pain response.

The pain increase is the body’s way of letting you know you are overdoing things. The soft tissue involved is becoming overstressed. Think of it as chain – it’s only as strong as its weakest link. Quite often the weakest link is the soft tissue, such as tendons and ligaments. Therapeutic exercise is utilized to promote healing, increase metabolism, and introduce gentle controlled loads so that these tissues can adapt to normal forces. It is important to give plenty of feedback to your health professional or doctor so he or she can monitor and make any adjustments to your rehabilitation program.

Pain is a subjective feeling that we have all experienced at one time or another. We know that when we undergo an injury or trauma, we generally feel pain. However, if there is no presence of pain, we may think that there is nothing wrong. This may not always be the case. Pain is the body’s mechanism to tell us if we are exercising too hard or overstressing our bodies. Just because pain is not present, however, does not necessarily mean that we are entirely healthy. For instance, if one is sedentary or deconditioned, there may not be any pain response. However, then one day we find we may begin to have back or neck pain due to a lack of muscle endurance. For this reason, many people move into pain patterns without any apparent reason or trauma.

In summary, exercise should be performed without any increase in pain. Periodic maintenance through exercise can prevent non-traumatic pain patterns from occurring.

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