Exercising into pain with a chronic injury?

A recent systemic review and meta-analysis titled “Should exercises be painful in the management of chronic musculoskeletal pain?” by Smith et al 2017 was published. It looked at exactly what is mentioned in the title, should it hurt when performing rehabilitation exercises. This is a very common question I get when in clinic and prescribing exercises.

The findings as listed in the paper:

· Protocols using exercises into pain for chronic musculoskeletal pain offer a small but significant benefit over pain free exercises in the short term

· Adults with musculoskeletal pain can achieve significant improvements in patient reported outcomes with varying degrees of pain experiences and post recovery time with therapeutic exercise

· Pain during therapeutic exercise for chronic musculoskeletal pain need not be a barrier to successful outcomes

· Protocols using exercises into pain typically have higher loads and dose of exercise

So the short answer is yes! Exercising into pain is OK if you have a chronic injury.

The theory behind why exercising into pain being beneficial is that it effects the central nervous system. The exercises address psychological factors behind chronic pain, that being fear avoidance behaviours. When we have chronic pain, our movement patterns are different – due to the subconscious mind/nervous system tightening up and restricting/guarding against movements.

Therefore, by moving/exercising into pain, it tells the brain that the tissues are OK and that by progressing it is not causing damage to the tissues. A hurdle that is often hard to overcome in chronic pain is that pain does not equal tissue damage.

Please note, that this research is into chronic musculoskeletal pain (lasting greater than 3 months), not acute pain. Consult with your health care professional before starting an exercise rehabilitation program.


Smith BE, Hendrick P, Smith TO, et al. Should exercises be painful in the management of chronic musculoskeletal pain? A systematic review and meta-analysis
Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 08 June 2017. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-097383



Mitchell Roberts – Chiropractor