This is a very slippery slope that I strongly hope you’re not sliding. I especially hope your personal trainer or therapist isn’t pushing you down that hill. You really only have two options when thinking about pain. You either have pain or you don’t have pain.
I have pain. So therefore no pain, no gain.
Let’s say that lifting your arm in the air gives you shoulder pain. A very unique feeling that you could easily identify and would probably avoid certain activities to prevent. For now think of that as Pain. It is the signaling from valuable tissue in your shoulder that its very integrity is compromised. There is an injury and the way you just moved worsened it. You should stop. So how in this scenario could more Pain be of any value? Listen to your body.
Sometimes things aren’t that simple. Sometimes Pain doesn’t develop for a few hours or a even a day. That same shoulder Pain arrives 3 hours after you’ve unloaded the dishwasher and did laundry. The cumulative effect of those activities compromised the integrity of that very important tissue in your shoulder and now it’s signalling your brain with Pain. This really isn’t different, that injured tissue is compromised either by 1 movement or many movements and could be felt immediately or delayed.
Your rehabilitation should follow this concept. Movement does some amazing things. Even the slightly pull on tissue stimulates the production of connection tissue, new cell production and repair of existing tissue. Pain isn’t a requirement. Being able to perform movement that doesn’t create immediate or delayed pain should be a very simple definition of rehabilitation.
I don’t have pain. So therefore no pain, no gain.
Congratulations you’re pain free. Now you’re probably thinking about performance improvements. What is pain telling you about your performance? Let’s get back to tissue integrity. If you’re feeling genuine Pain, you’ve managed to compromise the integrity of a tissue. This doesn’t mean appropriate stress through microtrauma. This means damage. Injury. Sure it will likely heal over a few days and maybe even trick you into thinking that’s how ‘good’ sore feels. It’s not. Performing a movement that causes pain means you’ve exceeded the integrity of a tissue either by applying too much load or stretch. Maybe the movement was too fast, heavy, awkward, unpracticed, inappropriate (i.e. the continental lift) or you’ve progressed too quickly. That part could have many answers. Pain has one answer: stop, reassess your approach to learning/improving that movement and begin a new approach after you’ve healed.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking if people stopped training a movement every time they approached pain their training would suffer. I completely agree. Wolfe’s law. Tissues respond to stress. Efficient training means getting tissue very close to the point of failure without crossing that line. I’m talking about to the person who feels their hamstring grab on deadlifts, whispers to themselves “no pain no gain” and bangs out 2 more sets. The person who progresses their squat weight too quickly and needs five days to recover before they can train again. If you’re training hard you will occasionally become injured and feel Pain. If you do re-read the previous section of this article then try not to make the same mistakes.
[almost] Nothing is absolute. If you’re “into pain” or want to feel pain to better relate to others in pain my advice may not apply. There are treatment techniques that can be pretty painful. Shockwave treatment comes to mind. I do numerous muscle/tissue releases and adjustments that can at times be painful. Brief fleeting moments of pain applied by a qualified practitioner are an exception.
The vast majority of people out there aren’t qualified to make those exceptions so in your own rehab and training listen to immediate or delayed pain, assess the cause and work to keep moving without pain.