I'm hurt, injured or in pain! Should I still work out?

by Joanna Whitney (PTS, Certified Health + Lifestyle Coach)

You might find yourself aligning with the thinking of one of the following individuals:

Person A“If I just ignore the pain and push through it, it will just go away.” 
“If I attack the pain with every type of intervention possible (and cause myself excruciating pain while doing it), it will heal faster.”

Person B“I hurt myself 4 years ago. I should never work out again.” 
OR “I injured my knee once, I should never do anything that requires movement of my knee joint because it causes some pain.”

As someone who has spent a lot of time playing sports, in a gym, moving my body in various settings (and getting injured as a result), I’ve spent time on both sides of the fence. But, admittedly, I definitely fall into line with the reasoning of Person A more often than not…pretending the pain isn’t there and hoping it will go away and continuing to exercise regardless. But that doesn’t mean I’m right. Nor does it mean I’m entirely wrong.

Now, I want to clarify that I’m not talking about muscle soreness from use…the kind that is adaptive and allows for growth. I’m talking about pain, injury or an issue that you may have seen a doctor, therapist or other practitioner about. 

Here’s the thing, if you’ve been alive for longer than a minute, you likely have SOME injury, scar tissue, joint issue, immobility or pain that’s been haunting you. It’s a fact of life. Maybe you're even injured or in pain right now!

AND, you don’t have to settle. In most cases, there are things you can do to reduce pain and improve overall function. 

Movement is one of those things. And herein lies the question…should I be working out if I’ve been injured?

The answer is yes. There is almost always some type of movement that will be beneficial to you.

If you are “Person A” this doesn’t mean go at it full-force, 100% and forget you are in pain. It is important to consider tissue capacity and recovery principles which call for rest to allow for recovery. The act of movement itself is catabolic (which means it’s breaking us down). Rest is anabolic (building us up). Rest is when adaptation and growth occurs. There must be balance between the two. It might simply mean exercising, but allowing for a lighter/slower/less intense approach.

Now, let’s consider “Person B.” If you’ve had long-standing pain or previous injuries that act up and are a continuous thorn in your side, it’s natural to avoid movements that feel uncomfortable or cause some discomfort. However, it may be time to ante-up a little and start incorporating movement which will encourage improvement in tissue capacity (the amount of load a tissue can tolerate). Additionally, there is a need for stimulus or stressful inputs to be provided in a controlled manner to reduce tissue sensitivity. 

Here’s what it boils down to: If you are going too hard/too fast/too heavy, it is likely further stressing tissues that need some down-time or a slower/lighter approach. If you’re not doing anything, this will likely allow that area to de-condition further and become even more reactive to pain.

Neither are ideal. There has got to be balance AND a thoughtful approach.

Enrolling the guidance and expertise of a knowledgable and experienced trainer is imperative when dealing with any type of pain or injury. They will be able to assess your needs and, most importantly, hold you accountable to the kind of work (or rest) that will be of most value to you.

Having had a nagging shoulder injury and trying to push through for years, I was finally at the point of avoidance, just hoping it wouldn’t get worse. However, in working with Ryan at RD Athletics and capitalizing on his expertise by incorporating rehabilitative exercises within my training plan, my shoulder pain and mobility has improved dramatically. We did not avoid moving my shoulder or doing weight bearing exercise. But, we did take advantage of shoulder specific mobility and strength drills and modified movement patterns in order to see positive outcomes.

WE ARE MEANT TO MOVE. Exercise and movement are vital to your health, but even more so as we age or become more prone to injury. But it cannot be done haphazardly, hoping for the best. It may have to be modified, adjusted or changed in frequency and intensity, but movement and exercise now can make the difference between the ability to move or not down the road. 

So, back to the original question. “I’m injured or have pain, should I work out?” YES...with the appropriate modifications and guidance!

So, get moving!