No Pain No Exercise? Pain as a motivator and deterrent to exercising

The relationship between pain and exercise can be more complicated than we think

Pain is a big deal. It is one of the main reasons why people go to see their doctors. Something hurts and they want it to stop.

Being injured is one of the reasons why people stop exercising. It hurts when I exercise …so I don’t.

But can the relationship be a little bit more complicated than that?

A study was published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation this month that looked at factors that were more common in people who didn’t go to their exercise class. These individuals all had either a meniscus tear or arthritis in the knee that was causing them pain. The findings showed that people that DIDN’T have pain with twisting or pivoting (a common complaint for persons with a meniscus tear) were 60% more likely to stop going to their exercise program!

This seems almost counter-intuitive because you’d think that people were MORE likely to come if they didn’t have pain. But what happens if the reason they were motivated to come is that they thought it would alleviate their pain? Once the pain was no longer there, they didn’t feel the same motivation to keep attending. No pain, no exercise.

Pain can go one of two ways

It’s true. I see it in my clinical practice. Pain can either be a reason why you come or an excuse for not wanting to. I think it depends on your beliefs about the power of exercise for rehabilitation, your history with exercise itself and the relationship you have with the people you are seeing for their pain, exercise

If pain is the reason why you are coming to the program and the pain disappears then you might disappear too. But exercise not only helps with rehabilitation from injury but also prevention of that injury from coming back.

I have had many times where I have used an exercise program to help someone get through an injury. They got better and were discharged but then they stopped doing their exercises. When they stopped, they lost the strength they’d gained and their pain started coming back.

It is why we talk about so often how exercise is a life-long journey. It is one that requires us to keep taking care of our bodies to prevent pain but also keep our bodies’ in tip top shape to stave off other illnesses and injuries.

So don’t let pain be your only motivator (or your deterrent) from exercising. Make it one reason to keep moving!

Tuakli-Wosornu, Y. A., Selzer, F., Losina, E., & Katz, J. N. (2016). Predictors of exercise adherence in patients with meniscal tear and osteoarthritis. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 97(11), 1945-1952. doi:S0003-9993(16)30238-6 [pii]

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Christina Prevett

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