No Pain, No Gain?

When it comes to exercise and physical fitness, is the “no pain, no gain” philosophy the best practice? As someone who has treated hundreds of patients for a gamut of injuries from torn muscles to systemic inflammatory conditions, I think there’s a better way to approach our overall health and fitness.

Being active can boost your health from improving your cardiovascular system, reducing stress, lowering your risk for chronic diseases and easing anxiety and depression. May is recognized as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, and it’s the ideal time to refresh our thinking on how to get in shape, stay in shape and prevent pain and injuries along the way.

Before You Start Physical Exercise and Sports

Adequately preparing your body for physical exercise and sports activities depends on the activity you choose. First, if you have any lingering or new medical conditions, you may want to talk with your physician about your fitness plans and goals. You do not want to exacerbate any physical condition that you have or cause a new problem. Also, with fitness at any level, strength and endurance can disappear quite quickly. You want to be aware of your current fitness level and then ease into where you’d like to be. 

If you’re walking for exercise, then you can gradually build up your distance or how quickly you walk. If you are just starting to golf this spring, you may want to begin with golf swing-type stretches and limber up your back and shoulders  before you tee off for the day. If you haven’t been very active during the wintertime, it’s good to ease into any exercise or sports activity. Instead of tackling 18 holes of golf the first time back on the course, aim for nine holes and increase over the next couple of weeks. Or rather than thinking you need to be back biking 20 miles a day, start out with five miles and pedal your way gradually back to your target distance. 

Recommended Exercise and Fitness Goals

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has compiled the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans that lists the ideal amount and intensity of activity for adults and youth ages 3 to 17. For example, it’s recommended that adults need a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking, fast dancing) every week. The guideline encourages people to move more and sit less. This helpful guide also notes that “physical activity has immediate health benefits. For example, physical activity can reduce anxiety and blood pressure and improve quality of sleep and insulin sensitivity.”

Download the physical activity guideline to discover which forms of physical activity are best for your age, fitness goals and interest levels. 

What to Do If You Feel Pain With Exercise

With medium- to higher-intensity exercise, you might feel some discomfort after your workout. In most cases, your muscles have been stressed beyond what they are typically used to. This post-exercise discomfort is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It is okay to feel this muscle soreness and aching a day or two after you complete physical activity that is not typical for you. DOMS may occur after shoveling snow for the first time in winter or from planting flowers for an hour in spring. Your body is going to experience discomfort from physical exertion that is atypical for you. The more your body starts to tolerate these physical activities, the less muscle discomfort you’ll feel. 

Sometimes with physical exercise you can experience pain that is more sudden or catastrophic. You may be playing sports and roll an ankle or you fall and your arm swells. You may not be grimacing in constant pain, but you know something in your body has quickly changed. You should cease the physical activity and assess the pain and your ability to move.

If you do not need immediate attention from our ThinkQuick walk-in clinic, then give yourself a few days for your body to heal. If your pain worsens or you experience tingling or numbness, signs of infection or you are not progressing in healing, then see your physician. They can make a referral to our physical therapy team. We will thoroughly evaluate your injury and overall fitness and help you return to your normal, pain-free activity level. 

How to Treat Pain and Injuries

Some of us are familiar with the at-home RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) method of caring for soft tissue sprains and strains. I actually prefer the PEACE and LOVE treatment credited to the British Journal of Sports Medicine. This approach considers the more chronic stages of tissue healing.

Protection  Avoid movements and activities that increase pain during the first few days after injury.

Elevation  Keep the injured limb elevated higher than the heart as much as possible.

Avoid anti-inflammatories  Anti-inflammatory medications reduce tissue healing. 

Compression  To reduce swelling, use an elastic bandage or taping. 

Education  Listen to your body and stay away from unnecessary medical treatments and advice. 


Load  Your body will let you know when it’s safe to gradually return to activities and increase load. 

Optimism  Stay confident and positive as you recover. 

Vascularization  Find pain-free cardiovascular activities to increase blood flow in repairing tissues.

Exercise  Restore strength and mobility through active, recovery-safe exercise.

How Think Physical Therapy Can Help

With winter in our rearview mirror, many of us are eager to get outside in the yard and garden or on the bike trail, golf course, tennis court or whatever is our favorite exercise and physical activities. But in springtime, a lot of people try to do too much. Too much lifting of the retaining wall bricks, too much sharp turning on the pickleball court. We could all use someone to guide us in our return to physical activities or in starting new exercise routines and sports. 

Physical therapy focuses on managing people’s pain and improving function. We specialize in musculoskeletal injuries, sports-related injuries and improving fitness. Usually we see people after they have injured themselves or they are recovering from surgery or some setback to their health. Other patients want to prepare themselves to be physically fit enough for a new activity or sport. We also help improve people’s balance and build up their strength and flexibility. 

Our team of physical therapy professionals is here to improve your quality of life so you can do more of the things you want to do. Skip the “no pain, no gain” mantra, and we’ll help you enjoy the activities and people that inspire you to more fun and fitness. 


Think Whole Person Healthcare is dedicated to keeping you healthy through preventative care and treatment for a wide range of medical conditions. From the perplexing pain to feeling unsteady on your feet, our physicians, advanced practice providers and specialists are committed to you and your family’s lifelong health and well-being. 

Our walk-in clinic treats anyone, even those who are not a think patient or do not have a primary care provider currently. To learn more about our comprehensive healthcare services, visit our Services page online and choose your own think medical professionals by visiting our Meet Your Doctor page. 

We help you stay healthy. Give us a call at 402.506.9000.

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