Everyone has heard the saying “no pain, no gain.” This may be true in healthy individuals when it pertains to muscle burn associated with exercise. We prefer however to say “no gain with pain.” Be sure to differentiate between pain and delayed muscle “soreness.” When one is injured, it is better said that those who exercise with pain are those who have no brain. When performing your rehabilitation program, you should only exercise in a pain minimized range. After an injury or surgery there is at least a little bit of pain. You should never do exercise that increases your pain response to greater than a 3 on a 1-10 scale (10 representing severe pain).
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 a chain only being as strong as its weakest link. Quite often the weakest link is the soft tissue. This is tissue like 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 they can monitor and make any adjustments to your rehabilitation programs.
There is another aspect of pain. Pain is a subjective feeling which we all have experienced at one time or another. We know that when we sustain an injury or have surgery 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. The body has a mechanism to tell us we are exercising too hard or overstressing our bodies – Pain. Just because pain is not present, does not mean that we are entirely healthy. For instance, if one is sedentary or deconditioned, we may not have any pain response, but then one day we begin to experience back pain or neck pain because of a lack of muscle endurance. For this reason, many people move into pain patterns without any apparent reason or trauma.
To sum it up, exercise should be performed without significant pain increases. Periodic maintenance exercise can prevent nontraumatic pain patterns from occurring. When in doubt feel free to consult a physical therapist who can guide you through your painful experience, or prevent pain from occurring in the first place.