Is it alright to exercise with pain?

“I shouldn’t be doing squats because my knees hurt? “

“I’ve not exercised for several months because I have back pain.”

“I’ve stopped all of my upper body training because my shoulder hurts”


It’s okay to experience pain when you exercise.  How your body responds to that pain dictates whether or not you should continue with the activity.

When helping people dealing with pain I use a traffic light analogy to guide activity. Movement is medicine. 

My treatments help compliment movement. What I do in the office is geared towards getting you back to moving.  Pain shouldn’t stop you from being active but it may require you to modify activity.

Green light activities

It’s okay to perform activities that result in mild degrees of pain.  These activities are typically rated less than 4 out of 10 (10 being blackout pain).  You may experience mild pain after the activity but it quickly subsides within 6 hours.  It’s alright to progress these exercises. Consider a 1 to 10% increase in activity the next time you do it.

Yellow light activities

A yellow light activity is an activity that results in moderate pain. Pain is typically rated a  5 to 7  out of 10.  That pain typically resolves within 24 to 72 hours after activity. 

Continue with active rest on off days. If managed correctly and there is no major loss of range of motion or strength you can attempt this activity again.  

If you experience pain that increases 3 points above your baseline of pain, this is a flare up. You should rest, ice, continue normal activities, avoid new activities, continue to think and speak positively, and avoid negative thoughts and words. You may need to back on this activity for a bit.

Red light activities 

Red light situations are activities where pain reaches 8 or more out of 10.  There is a significant loss of range of motion or strength.  Pain after activity persists for more than a couple of days; maybe weeks. It’s time to stop the activity or modify it. 

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