Pain is far more than just a physical experience; when you’re in pain, your primary concern is getting out of it.
Pain changes the lens you see the world through, instead of seeing opportunity and broad horizons. You see the things you’re missing out on, and you end up feeling afraid you’ll miss out on more and more if you don’t solve the problem now.
Getting out of pain, especially if it’s chronic, requires that you manage the pain as you work through it. The longer you’ve been in pain, the less likely it is to just go away on its own.
Our intention is to give you a system in the article so you can manage your symptoms while exercising so that you never end up doing “more harm than good” and you can reclaim your active lifestyle.
Stages of pain
There are five stages of pain. Each stage of pain presents differently and is outlined in the table below.
It’s essential to identify which stage of pain you’re currently experiencing in order to track progress and help you make informed decisions about your exercise and lifestyle.
Pay close attention to the dark blue column. These are your thresholds for when to stop exercising to avoid doing more harm than good.
After you’ve established which stage of pain you’re in and assuming it’s acceptable to continue exercise, you need to determine your pain level.
We use a scale from one to ten and have found that keeping symptoms at a 4/10 or less usually keeps people from spiraling into excessive symptoms that interfere with daily activities or lead to flare-ups lasting more than 24 hours.
Symptoms with movement
If you’re in pain, you need to monitor how it behaves with movement. This both keeps you safe and informs your decisions about movement patterns, weight, amount of exercise, and range of motion. If your symptoms improve or stay the same with movement, you’re on the right track.
Symptoms after stopping
Monitoring symptoms after stopping provides valuable information about the irritability of your condition. If symptoms stay above baseline or build after stopping for more than one minute, you’ve pushed too far and need to dial back.
Symptoms post exercise
Some symptoms and a bit of discomfort post-exercise is normal. Even if you’re not injured, some post-training soreness is very common. However, when an injury is involved, you don’t want symptoms to stay elevated above baseline for more than 48 hours.
All of these rules are helpful, but as we said at the beginning, pain isn’t just physical; it’s also emotional. That makes tracking progress essential; the irritability index makes that easy even when there are flare-ups along the way. If symptoms are less frequent, intense, or long-lasting, you’re making progress in the right direction. However, if the frequency, intensity, and duration are increasing, you need to make adjustments, and the information you collect from the previous rules will help you make that happen.
Download the color-coded chart to help guide your exercise decisions below.