Myth 3 – Pain equals damage


Pain is not the same thing as harm or injury.

Isaac Cockcroft, a physiotherapist at the Royal North Shore Hospital, explains….

“I shouldn’t do that activity, as it causes me pain”

“Exercise flares up my condition, so I can’t do that”.

These are common reasons why pain stops people engaging in their usual activities. Current research however suggests otherwise. Most of the time pain should not prevent us from moving.

What is pain?

Pain is a complex warning system, which your body uses to try to protect you from a potential threat or danger. For example, if you broke a bone in your foot, your body would produce pain to stop you walking on it and allow it to heal.

Pain is not an accurate measure of tissue damage and sometimes we have false alarms of the warning system. An example of this is phantom limb pain, where a person experiences pain in a limb that has been amputated.

We know that the relationship between pain and tissue damage becomes weaker the longer pain has been present. Pain can persist despite tissues being healed. For many chronic conditions, including most forms of arthritis, evidence tells us regular movement will improve overall pain in the long term even though it may feel painful to begin with.

(If you would like to know more about persistent pain, is a good place to start).

Pain and Exercise:

Unless you’ve had a broken bone or a major trauma, it should be safe to move and exercise. For most conditions, not moving will actually make your pain worse.

During exercise, it is normal to experience some pain, especially when it is an activity you don’t do often. So when exercising, remind yourself that “hurt does not equal harm” and “it’s safe to be sore”[1]. Start with an exercise you enjoy and then slowly increase the amount you do. Allow your body time to get used to the activity. In the long term, as your body realises movement is safe, you should reduce your pain, make activity easier and let you get back to doing what you enjoy.

To learn more about exercise visit here. 

To learn about dealing with pain visit here.

To keep up to date about arthritis information, subscribe to Arthritis NSW’s free monthly eNews here.