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Understanding Pain Levels

Often, folks are conditioned to think all pain is bad. They're told by a trainer that if they feel a certain amount of pain they should stop that activity, when in reality, they've got the green light to continue!

  • Good pain, like muscle soreness after a workout, signifies growth.
  • Warning pain, such as joint ache from new exercises, suggests caution.
  • Dangerous pain, like sharp sensations during workouts, demands immediate attention.

People often mistake discomfort for harm, but proper loading causes discomfort and is not always a pleasant experience. Learning to differentiate this and true pain is imperative to maximizing gains when recovering from an injury.

Listening to your body guides intensity. Seeking professional advice for unusual or severe pain minimizes risks.

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🔴 Red Light Pain

This is the serious stuff, like tissue damage— big changes in strength or motion indicate this level. If you can't continue what you're doing, or it affects your daily life, you likely need to seek care from a healthcare provider.

Consider a torn muscle or a severe loss in your ability to move a joint—that's the red light pain, indicating you need to stop immediately and assess the situation. You've ran the red light and unfortunately an accident has occurred.

🔶 Yellow Light Pain

A warning sign, not super bad — if pain jumps by 4-6 points out of 10, be cautious. It might last longer, up to 48-72 hours, but generally won't stop you completely.

This level of discomfort is an indicator that you might have pushed a bit too hard or too fast and the tissue has not yet adapted to this stimulus.

If you're not returning from injury, an example of this would be DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). The load was simply too high for what the tissue was prepared for. In many cases this is not dangerous, but gives you a heads up that some modifications may be needed to your training/rehab.

✅ Green Light Pain

The sweet spot for growth and improvement. It's uncomfortable but manageable. Pain increases 1-3 points out of 10, indicating you're pushing boundaries but not stressing tissues too far beyond their means.

Green Light Pain is like a signal telling you to keep going—it's uncomfortable but safe. Here are examples and their possible causes:

Muscle burn during exercise

When you feel that satisfying burn in your muscles while lifting weights or doing squats, it's a sign you're working just beyond your limits.

Mild joint discomfort when increasing Range of Motion

Suppose you're gradually improving flexibility, and there's a slight discomfort as you stretch a bit further. It's your body adapting to increased demand, a sign you're expanding your range without causing harm.

Slight aching during physical therapy exercises

When rehab exercises cause a dull ache in the targeted area, it's usually a sign that you're within the therapeutic threshold, aiding recovery without straining too much.

These instances indicate a manageable discomfort, suggesting you're challenging your body just enough for progress without crossing into the danger zone of pain and injury.

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Pain Indicators

Sharp, stabbing pain during activity? Slow down. Dull ache or mild to moderate sensations are okay. After stopping the activity, pain should ease within 24 hours.

Here are some pain indicators you might experience during physical exertion or exercise:

Red Light — Sharp, stabbing pain

If during a workout, you suddenly feel a sharp, stabbing pain in a specific muscle or joint, it's a warning to stop immediately. It could indicate a potential injury that needs attention.

Yellow Light — Lasting ache or discomfort

Any slightly lingering pain that is up into that moderate range can indicate you got away with one, but a modification is appropriate moving forward.

Green Light — Relatively transient

Live here! Train here! Be comfortable being uncomfortable so that your body can adapt to the demands being placed on it.

Increased pain beyond normal limits

If your pain levels spike beyond what you usually experience during a particular exercise, it's a cue to reassess your approach. It might indicate incorrect form, excessive load, or pushing beyond your limits.

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Training & Therapy

Discomfort is part of the deal; don't fear it. If you stop at the first sign of discomfort, you might be holding back progress. Listen to your body, adapt training accordingly.

Think of it as your body's way of signaling that it's adjusting and adapting. Listening to these signals allows for smarter, more efficient training.

Growth happens when you challenge your body beyond its comfort zone. It's in this uncomfortable zone that your body recognizes the need for change, be it building muscle, increasing endurance, or enhancing flexibility.

By understanding your body's responses and gradually pushing its limits, you pave the way for real progress and growth.

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Getting Help

If you've been working out your entire life, or you're a novice at the gym, our expertise can help you take the next step and meet your goals. We obviously specialize in those with current pain, but prevention is an excellent way to get moving better and stay out of harm's way.

If you're not even sure where to start, we can help with that below!

Send me that.   Send yourself a copy of this article and any future posts.

PT 101
Post by David Frasier
December 30, 2023


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