This is a question we as physios often get asked. Some people are worried that any form of pain is going to cause their injury to worsen, whereas others want to know how much they can push through pain without the risk of damaging themselves.
A general rule of thumb, we like to use the traffic light system for pain. When we’re in the green zone, with a pain between 0 and 4 on a scale of 10, this means the safe zone where there is little chance of flaring anything. In the orange zone, this pain has increased to between 5 and 7, which is when we need to be cautious to not to overdo it and maybe modify our activity levels. In the red zone of 8 to 10, this is when the pain gets quite severe, and this is considered too much pain. Generally, we like to say that anything in the green zone is acceptable, in the orange zone we like to modify the activity levels (not completely stop), and pain in the red zone is too much and the activity needs to be stopped temporarily to prevent the injury from flaring up. This doesn’t mean that an 8/10 pain is causing damage to the tissue, which is not always the case, but definitely that it is sensitizing the area and not helping it get better.
Another clue we like to use to decide whether the pain is at an acceptable level to continue with activity, is how quickly it settles down. If it gets to a 6/10 but settles quickly after finishing the movement (within a few minutes), then it might still be acceptable. If the pain is at a 4/10 and it settles within the next 24 hours, that could also be acceptable. However, if the pain is at a 4/10 but doesn’t settle for 3 days after and is interfering with your day-to-day life then that might be a sign that it’s too much.
If you’re living with pain and you’re not sure what to do and how to continue with exercise despite the pain, please get in touch with one of our highly qualified physiotherapists at Cairnhill Physiotherapy and they can guide you back to full function!