Is it safe to exercise with pain?
Aches, pains, and niggles can make exercise off-putting… aside from the discomfort of 'pushing through pain', there's real concern about making the pain worse or causing damage.
But here's the deal... exercise is not only safe, but it is one of THE BEST things for persistent pain. Here’s what you need to know:
Any movement, is good movement
➡️ Research shows that ANY exercise helps with chronic pain. The specific movement or exercise style you choose, is way less important than picking something which is easy for you to do, and ideally which you enjoy.
➡️ Best practice guidelines for back pain recommend against bed-rest, and promote keeping active
But don't avoid a painful movement altogether
➡️ Completely avoiding painful movements can actually make you more sensitive to pain, and make the pain or discomfort stick around longer
➡️ Instead, aim to gradually build up strength & mobility in movement or exercise that hurts. Start with a lighter/easier version that is tolerable for you, but not necessarily pain-free. As you get stronger, continue to make it harder.
➡️ It's okay to push into a little pain when exercising. If the pain remains elevated for over 24 hours after exercise - next time, make it easier and/or do less of it.
Don't get hung up on technique and posture
➡️ Exercise technique isn't as important as you think, in terms of injury and pain prevention.
It’s less about the ‘right’ way to move (i.e. technique) than finding movement that is tolerable for you right now, and gradually building up load and volume from there.
➡️ Posture, muscle weaknesses, imbalances or instabilities aren’t linked to back pain either. You can address them as part of a general program if you wish, but they’re not the cause of pain.
➡️ Pain doesn’t equal damage. Disc bulges and disc degeneration, for example, are poorly correlated to pain.
These guidelines are relevant for persistent pain, that is not related to recent trauma or injury, and where serious red flags (e.g. fractures and tumours) have been ruled out.
If you're interested in reading more about this research, you'll find the full article here: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/54/12/698