Pain is Bad, and Other Common Misconceptions

By: peaksports-admin | Posted: 12/13/2023

I think we can all agree that nobody likes to be in pain. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that pain is a bad thing. As much as we don’t like pain, it is something that nearly everyone experiences in their life. 

  • Chronic musculoskeletal pain, defined as pain that has gone on for more than 3 months, is the leading cause of disability worldwide.¹ 
  • 25% of Americans experience moderate-severe chronic pain, rated at > 7/10 on a 10 point scale.¹ 
  • Billions of dollars every year are spent towards the treatment and management of pain. 

Even though we may not be able to prevent pain in our lives, studies have shown that education and increasing knowledge on how pain works can help decrease the severity and aid in the management of pain. 

Misconception #1: “Pain = damage”

Pain signals come from the brain in response to nerve signals from the body, like an alarm system. The brain sends a pain response as an alarm to warn the body of potential harm. If you accidentally touch a hot stove, pain gets you to move your hand before you really burn yourself. For some soft tissue injuries, it can take up to 2 years to completely heal. And, sometimes, pain will continue to persist once the injury has fully healed. In these cases, the brain can continue to send an alarm signal when there is no risk of harm or re-injury. That is where doing some graded movements and exercises can help to decrease the pain hypersensitivity, “recalibrate” our pain threshold, and increase activity participation.

Misconception #2: “No pain, no gain”

This common saying insinuates that you can’t make progress with your rehab or training without feeling pain. Although we want to make gradual progress, we do not need to push ourselves to the point of pain. That is where pain can be our helpful alarm system. If I start training for a marathon, I am probably not going to try and run 26 miles that first day. Pain can be my brain’s way of telling me that my body is not prepared for that level of activity quite yet and that I need to progress more gradually. Studies have shown that it is not necessary to push to the point of failure to elicit gains in strength, endurance, or mobility. Usually, we will encourage patients to move and exercise up to a level of manageable discomfort that feels like a challenge without too much pain. Like most cases, this is dependent on each person’s unique circumstances.

Misconception #3: “If it hurts, don’t do it”

To build off of the points above, pain can (but not always) mean that you are doing too much. However, we do not want to build a fear of moving that is dictated by pain. Completely avoiding an activity or movement will likely not help you perform that same activity later without any practice, (i.e. “if you don’t use it, you lose it”). The solution to whether you should perform a painful movement or not is dependent on a multitude of factors. The Physical Therapists at Peak Sports and Spine can help work with you to develop an individualized plan on what ways you can modify or simulate movements to get you back to the activities that are important to you.

SourcesEl-Tallawy, S.N., Nalamasu, R., Salem, G.I. et al. Management of Musculoskeletal Pain: An Update with Emphasis on Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain. Pain Ther10, 181–209 (2021).

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