Should I train through pain?

We’ve all experienced muscle or joint pain at some point. We know that it’s an unpleasant sensation and often emotional experience.

Importantly, that experience may be associated with actual or potential tissue damage, highlighting that pain serves as a protective mechanism against injury, though it does not necessarily indicate harm.

Furthermore, pain is very subjective and may be influenced by various factors such as attitudes and beliefs like – “If it doesn’t hurt, I’m not trying hard enough” or past experiences such as – “Last time I felt this pain, it meant I’d really hurt myself”.

When it comes to training or in recovering from an injury, these are valuable points to remember.

When is it appropriate to train through pain and when is it not?

Broadly speaking, a mild degree of pain may be acceptable when training, whether that be during a Sunday long run or on the gym floor.

Remember, pain does not necessarily equal harm. Pain should therefore be monitored both during and after exercise to determine whether it’s appropriate to continue training. 

In monitoring pain associated with training, any pain experienced should be of low intensity and remain relatively consistent. That is, training should not provoke a significant increase in pain, nor should there be prolonged aggravation of symptoms following training (i.e. 24-48 hours post-training).

Ignoring these warning signals may come at the cost of injury.

If pain or injury are encountered during exercise then, it may be necessary to consider modifying aspects of the training to allow adequate recovery. Importantly though, rarely is it necessary to cease training altogether. 

Ask yourself these questions

The questions we must ask then when it comes to training and pain are:

  • “Is the pain I’m getting of an acceptable nature?” (i.e. low and consistent)
  • “Has there recently been an excessive or rapid increase in training?” (e.g. frequency, volume, load).
  • “What was it and how can it be modified?”

Asking these questions, and being honest in your answers, is a sure fire way to reduce your risk of injury and keep you striving towards your performance goals. 

Written by

Tim O’Grady

Tim is a Physiotherapist who specialises in football/Rugby and golfing injuries. Tim doesn’t believe that rest will make you a better athlete and he focuses on performance-based rehab methods. Tim is also qualified in golf biomechanics and injuries.

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