Unfortunately, at some point you are going to experience some form of pain or discomfort during or following exercise. The severity will differ, but it is hard to avoid. Gone are the days where the RICE protocol of rest, ice, compression, and elevation are used when injured. While most is still relevant, it is rest that we may want to avoid. Nowadays it is POLICE – OL standing for optimal loading.
So... “Can I still exercise if I’m in pain?”
The answer isn’t as straight forward as you may like, it depends on a few things.
Has there been any trauma or mechanism of injury?
For example, did you fall onto an outstretched arm and now you feel pain in your shoulder going overhead? Were you out running and rolled your ankle over a rock?
If the answer is yes, it would be strongly advised to seek advice and guidance from a healthcare professional to get fully assessed and determine the extent of your injury. From there, the best possible answer and outcome for your injury can be made.
If we take the example of the fall onto an outstretched arm, if there is a more serious injury like a break or fracture, loading that arm may be out of the question but you should be able to sit on an exercise bike, or use lower body machines in the gym.
Pain or discomfort?
What is the pain out of 10? Is it a genuine pain you are feeling when doing a certain movement? Or is it a mild discomfort? If it is a pain, there is likely a reason for this, and you should avoid these movements until you have been assessed and rehabbed accordingly.
Or is it discomfort? Mild niggle that as you walk for longer it starts to ease and eventually you don’t feel anything. This is likely to be ok as long as it does not come back with a vengeance. If the discomfort then turns to pain, then again, it may be best to stop or alter the exercise accordingly.
What level of pain do you feel? Typically, in clinic we advise a ‘Traffic light’ system.
Green light = 0-3 out of 10
Amber light = 4-5 out of 10
Red light = 6+ out of 10
Do you sit in the green zone? Then typically it should be ok to continue the exercise. Amber comes with some stipulations – does the pain get worse as you exercise? Does it linger for >30mins after exercise? If so and you start to move into the red zone, it is best to stop this exercise and consider adapting where possible.
So how do I adapt my exercises if I do have pain?
There are several ways this can be achieved:
Changing the load
Changing the range of motion
Changing the exercise
Changing the load:
If you perform a squat with 100kg on the barbell and you experience hip pain, but you drop it down to 60kg and you don’t feel any – maybe it is best to drop down and work on your technique and control over lighter weights before progressing back up to heavier weights.
If you typically walk 3 hours a day with no break and feel pain in your hip, can you walk in 3 chunks of 1 hour?
Changing the range of motion:
Do you experience pain, catching or pinching with your arms overhead or pressing overhead but have pain-free range of motion out in front, then you could perform a bench press, or an incline press instead.
If you get low back pain when deadlifting from the floor, do you have access to blocks increase the height of the bar and reduce the amount you are hinging? Or if there is a rack with safety bars, could you perform some rack pulls from an even greater height?
Changing the exercise:
This is one that typically arises within the running community. Runner’s love to run. Runner’s also (usually) hate anything other than running. But, there is other ways to build aerobic capacity! Walking, cycling and swimming are the main options we usually suggest.
If you get pain in your hamstring from hinging movements like regular or Romanian deadlifts, can you perform a hamstring curl instead?
So, can I still exercise while in pain?
Again, it really depends on your specific presentation. However, the answer should always be yes. What you do is usually the main thing. Going back to the POLICE acronym, it may be clearer what optimal loading means now. Yes, rest when required, but it may not be best advised to lie about in bed for a week waiting for the pain to subside.
If you have any questions about back or shoulder pain, or would like to book an appointment to see a physiotherapist, please click here to book. Book Online – Physioflexx Ayrshire