How to Tell the Difference Between Good and Bad Pain

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Are you familiar with that feeling when you’re powering through exercise, sweat pouring down your face and you strongly consider to quit? Then out of the corner of your eye someone hits you with a knowing grin and says, “no pain, no gain?”

When you’re trying to get in shape, starting a new sport or exercise plan, or taking your fitness to the next level, there are going to be challenges and a certain level of discomfort.

While there is truth to phrase “no pain, no gain”, there is also definitely a line between “good pain” (i.e. something you should push past to achieve your goals) and “bad pain” (i.e. something you should listen to as a sign of over doing it).

What is good pain?

One of the most common forms of “good pain” is what doctors and physiotherapists may refer to as “delayed onset muscle soreness”. This happens when you’ve challenged a muscle with something it’s not used to; new, returning or increased exercise. Within one to two days, you’ll start to feel soreness in the area and it may be tender to touch. But, the soreness goes away quickly after that.

The pain comes from micro trauma in the muscle caused by rigorous exercise. This is not a bad thing. A muscle gets stronger, building denser tissue, when it has a reason to remodel itself. When it senses the tiny trauma, the muscle repairs tissue to allow for more endurance. The key here is the “micro” part of “trauma”.

What is bad pain?

“Bad pain” is an injury. Continuing to exercise with an injury will not allow you to push through pain or reach your goals. It will only make things worse. You need to stop and seek a recovery plan.

How do you tell the difference?

There are a few key indicators to determine whether you’re crossing over into serious or “bad pain.”

  1. The good pain makes you tired but you keep going, sacrificing your form just to continue the exercise. Bad form leads to bad pain.
  2. The pain comes on all of a sudden (sometimes with a pop, crack or feeling that something isn’t right).
  3. The pain is in your joints (i.e. your knee). You should never have joint pain after working out because there is no “good joint pain.”
  4. The pain isn’t equal on both sides (i.e. does one shoulder hurt while the other is fine?).
  5. The pain is pinpointed in one area, as opposed to more general and spread out (i.e. are you experience pain in your calf muscle, just above your heel?).

Essentially, reading your own body is the best indicator between good and bad pain. Pay attention to how you feel before, during and after exercise (for at least one to two days).

If you’re not sure whether the pain you’re experiencing is good pain or bad pain, or if you’re suffering from an injury and need help with recovery, contact a pt Health clinic near you. We’re here to help you get well & stay well!

If you feel more comfortable receiving care from the comfort of your home, we offer many of our services through virtual care as well. Visit our virtual care page to learn more or to book a virtual assessment.


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