No Pain, No Gain

Most of us have come across the idea of ‘pushing through pain’ or ‘no pain no gain’. This notion, endorsed by many hardcore fitness enthusiasts, often arises from a desire to maintain physical activity levels despite the presence of an injury or a belief that enduring pain will lead to greater progress. However, when it comes to back pain, it’s crucial to debunk this myth and understand the complexities of managing back pain without exacerbating the condition.

What is pain? (Hint – it isn’t ‘weakness leaving the body’)

Pain serves as the body’s warning signal, alerting us to the potential for damage or injury. In the context of back pain, it’s essential to recognise that pain is a multifaceted sensation influenced by physical, psychological, and social factors. Although pain does not necessarily equal damage, it is usually a mistake to completely discard or ignore it. When it’s there, it’s normally there for a reason!

Differentiating Discomfort and Harm

‘Pushing through pain’ usually involves continuing activities despite experiencing discomfort or exacerbating pain levels. While the intention may be to maintain normalcy or accelerate recovery, this approach can potentially have adverse consequences.

One of the critical aspects in managing back pain is distinguishing between discomfort due to the injury’s natural healing process and pain that indicates potential harm or worsening of the condition. Understanding this distinction is vital in determining the appropriate level of activity.

So what do I do?

How can you tell the difference between acceptable discomfort and harm? There is no exact line in the sand to be drawn, but there are several steps one can take to ensure you are staying away from potential harm without being overly cautious.

1️⃣ Gradual Progression
Instead of pushing through pain, a more prudent approach involves gradual progression. This entails modifying activities or exercises to match your current capacity and gradually increasing intensity or duration as tolerated. In the initial stages, my general guidance here is to take what you think you can realistically do today and halve it. So, if you think you can manage a 30 minute jog today, do 15 minutes, that sort of thing. This may seem overly cautious, but you can always add more later. This approach will mean you are assessing, not guessing, the impact different activities will have on your body.

2️⃣ Rating your pain
It’s not an exact science, but assessing your level of pain can also be valuable here. Generally speaking, pain levels of around 2/3 out of 10 – what most people would describe as ‘tolerable discomfort’ – are indicative that what you are experiencing is discomfort and not harm. Anything more than that and it’s often a good idea to ease up a little bit.

3️⃣ Targeted Rehabilitation
Engaging in targeted rehabilitation exercises under the guidance of a physiotherapist or other healthcare professional can aid recovery, strengthen supporting muscles, and improve mobility without exacerbating pain.

Each back injury is unique. What works for one person may not be suitable for another. Tailoring rehabilitation and activity modifications to suit individual needs, pain thresholds, and specific conditions is crucial for effective management.

Pain as a Guide, Not a Barrier

Rather than pushing through pain, view it as a guide. Respect its signals and adjust activities accordingly. If an exercise or movement consistently increases pain, it may not be appropriate for your current stage of recovery.

At the Sussex Back Pain Clinic we can guide you through your rehabilitation and return to previously painful activities so you can keep doing the things you love, safe in the knowledge that you will avoid re-injury and continue in the right direction.


With a genuine passion for improving the lives of individuals suffering from back pain, I offer a unique combination of professional expertise and personal experience to the treatment of patients. I believe in empowering patients to take control and move towards a pain-free life. I am here to guide you on the journey from where you are now to where you need to be.

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