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How to Exercise with Pain

Pain can be a major cause of stress and limit your motivation to make and keep healthy habits. Knowing how to respond to pain is a key skill for calming pain and supporting your whole-person health.

Pain is your brains way of getting your attention, to alert you that there is a problem in some part of the body.

Acute pain is the initial stage of pain. When there is damage to a part of the body the nerve cells in that area send signals through your spinal cord to the part of your brain responsible for regulating that part of your body. Your brain sends a signal back with a level of pain that matches the level of threat to your wellbeing.

Chronic pain is much less straightforward and scientists, although making great strides, are still trying to figure out why pain sticks around, gets worse and spreads, even after the damage in the body is repaired.

Understanding Your Pain

What most pain scientists and doctors do agree on is that rest and avoiding activity is no longer helpful advice. This is for two main reasons.

  1. “Motion is lotion” is the more common term now, to remind us that movement can promote healing when it is used well.
  2. Your body is a use-it-to-keep-it system. When pain limits movement, you lower the functional skills of strength, stamina, and motility, which further limits your ability to move and creates a downward spiral of loss of function.

A major barrier to exercising when you are experiencing pain is the old saying ‘no pain no gain’. It has created strongly held beliefs that starting an exercise program will be painful. It even has many people believing soreness is good, a sign you ‘did something’.   Both of these are not only untrue, but they also add to the stress of being in pain and lower motivation.

There is no scientific evidence soreness improves strength. In fact, muscle soreness is inflammation, which creates more work for your body to heal, slowing the process of growing stronger.

Pain associated with exercise drains motivation because your brain is hardwired to avoid what makes you feel worse now and choose what makes you feel better now. Experiencing pain when you start exercising tells your brain exercise is something to avoid. This is why getting started and staying motivated to exercise is said to be the hardest part of exercising. But it doesn’t have to be!

Learning to Move Well

Pain is a sign something needs to change.  But what needs to change is very personal because it involves the way your brain thinks about your body and the pain. This is why there is no definitive research that gives us a one size fits all answer to how to exercise to reduce pain.

When you know how to move well, you gain access to the most personalized, up-to-date information about how to help your brain and body work together again to move in a way that can reduce pain and leave you feeling better.

If you want to be healthy in your whole person, but are limited by pain, learn how to move to Be Well Now so you reduce the stress that comes with living with pain, and strengthen your self-motivation skills for whole-person health.