Should I train through pain?

We’ve all experienced pain at some point, and know it to be an unpleasant sensory and
often emotional experience. Importantly, that experience may be associated with actual or
potential tissue damage, highlighting that pain serves as a protective mechanism against
injury, though does not necessarily signal harm. Furthermore, pain is very subjective and
may be influenced by various factors such as attitudes and beliefs (e.g. “If it doesn’t hurt,
I’m not trying hard enough”) and past experiences (e.g. “Last time I felt this pain, it meant
I’d really hurt myself”).

When it comes to training or in recovering from an injury, these are valuable points to
remember. So when is it appropriate to train through pain and when is it not?

Broadly speaking, a mild degree of pain may be acceptable when training, whether that be
during a Sunday long run or on the gym floor. Remember, pain does not necessarily equal
harm. Pain should therefore be monitored both during and after exercise to determine
whether it’s appropriate to continue training.

In monitoring pain associated with training, any pain experienced should be of low intensity
and remain relatively consistent. That is, training should not provoke a significant increase
in pain, nor should there be prolonged aggravation of symptoms following training (i.e. 24-
48 hours post-training). Ignoring these warning signals may come at the cost of injury.

If pain or injury are encountered during exercise then, it may be necessary to consider
modifying aspects of the training to allow adequate recovery. Importantly though, rarely is
it necessary to cease training altogether.

The questions we must ask then when it comes to training and pain are:

  • “Is the pain I’m getting of an acceptable nature?” (i.e. low and consistent)
  • “Has there recently been an excessive or rapid increase in training?” (e.g. frequency,
    volume, load).
  • “What was it and how can it be modified?”

Asking these questions, and being honest in your answers, is a sure fire way to reduce your
risk of injury and keep you striving towards your performance goals.