Is it okay to have pain while exercising?

If you have pain or are recovering from an injury, it can be hard to know when pain during exercise is okay or causing harm. Sometimes pain during an exercise is completely normal. Occasionally pain may be harmful, and the exercise should be modified. Use the following to help guide you:

Pain intensity during the activity:

Most of the time, minimal pain during activity is optimal. However, in some cases a moderate amount of pain may be acceptable (for example, stretching your knee after knee surgery). If you are unsure, a physical therapist can help you determine whether your pain during exercise is okay or harmful.

How long your pain lasts:

Discomfort should settle down quickly after the exercise. Soreness lasting the rest of the day, or the following day is usually acceptable, and sometimes completely normal.

Your tolerance to the activity:

Over time, your soreness or pain should decrease as you become more tolerant to that level of exercise. If this is not the case, you may need to adjust the amount of activity or modify your program. Below are some examples of areas you can modify in your desired activity and examples for squatting are provided:

  1. Decrease the overall motion and work in a comfortable range. For example, modify the depth of your squat.
  2. Make subtle changes in position to make an exercise more comfortable. For example, try changing the position of your feet (toes pointed forward vs toes pointed slightly outward).
  3. Decrease or change the weight or resistance.
  4. Modify the duration or frequency of your activity. Increase or decrease duration of each session or sessions per week.

If you have questions about your specific activity or pain you have during exercise, contact us at Performance Plus Physical Therapy for help. A physical therapist can help you design an exercise program that is comfortable and specific to your needs, to help you get back to the activities you enjoy!

By Jacqueline Dagostino PT, DPT