No Pain, No Gain

January 7, 2015 8:15p | CORE PT & MC | by CORE Movement Specialists






















In the gym we expect free weights and machines to make our muscles tired, possibly even sore the next day.  A common slogan to motivate people is “No Pain, No Gain.”  Some form of the phrase can be traced back hundreds of years, but the phrase was largely popularized by Jane Fonda in her workout videos.  What does the phrase really mean and can its interpretation get you into trouble? 

The trick becomes defining the pain in “No Pain, No Gain.”  Does pain refer to the initial training hurdles one must overcome to condition the body to a new task?  For example, a novice runner must overcome the body’s urge to stop running in the first mile so that overtime the body adapts to the challenge.  Does pain refer to the mental toughness one must possess to persevere or sacrifice to achieve goals?  Does pain refer to the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) experienced 24-48 hours post exercise?  If that is how you define pain, then I agree “No Pain, No Gain.” 

For many exercise enthusiasts however, the phrase “No Pain, No Gain” is so ingrained that they fail to listen to the body’s pain alarms.  Systems designed to warn us of potential tissue damage.  Is it taboo to show weakness when training or is it just the line between training effect and tissue damage are poorly defined?  Frequently in the clinic I hear stories of people pushing into tissue pathology under the guise of “No Pain, No Gain.”  Stories of people with back pain who state, “I needed to do sit ups to strengthen my core, only now my back is so sore I can’t stand up tall.”  Stories of athletes like runners training for a race.  They share stories of cocktails of anti-inflammatories, ice, massage, foam rollers and the like to manage hip, knee or foot pain.  Many are convinced pain is “normal at these miles and I just have to toughen up” until the pain becomes so severe they can’t push through it anymore.  These are stories of people with a musculoskeletal problem leading to tissue damage.  Pain is your body’s alarm to notify you of a problem.  Choosing to ignore these warning signs can lead to more serious pathology and increase recovery times. 

Warning signs that require medical attention include pain lasting longer than 24-48 hours post exercise; pain associated with a specific movement direction or activity; recurring episodes of pain; and pain that requires medications like Ibuprofen for relief.  If you experience one or more of these symptoms, call your physical therapist to see if you have a musculoskeletal problem that will benefit from treatment.  The earlier you address pain the easier it is to alleviate symptoms and address the underlying cause.  We encourage exercise enthusiasts to work smarter not harder.  Learn your body, listen to your pain alarms and seek care when appropriate to ensure you lead a healthy and active lifestyle for years to come.