How to Keep Training With Pain and Injury

Have you wondered if you should keep training with pain and injury? Discover a few short exercise programs you can still do even if you are injured or in pain.

What is Pain?

training with pain & injury

This is an extremely loaded question! But…

According to the International Association for the Study of Pain; pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage (1). However, pain can be extremely complex and multi-factorial.

Pain can be influenced by your emotional, mental and social well-being. It can also be influenced by your beliefs and perceptions of pain. Pain can be described as either acute or chronic.

Acute Pain

Acute pain refers to pain that usually occurs suddenly from soft tissue damage. For example after rolling your ankle or cutting your skin. Not all acute pain occurs suddenly but all acute pain should settle within 6 months. It could last from a few seconds, to a few weeks or months but not usually longer than 6 months.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain refers to ongoing pain that usually lasts longer than roughly 6 months. This pain can persist even after the injury or damage has healed. Despite full healing, pain signals can still remain firing in your nervous system for lengthy periods of time.

What is an Injury?

An injury is defined as damage or bodily harm to a person. This can be from external forces such as being hit by a ball. Or it could be caused by your internal system such as spraining a ligament or muscle.

OK, so what’s the difference?

This obviously his gets a little complicated but to simplify; pain can occur without any physiological damage. For example have you ever been really sore after a hard workout? It’s not that you’ve sustained an injury, but you’re definitely experiencing pain! Whereas to have an injury there is damage found physiologically.

Regardless if you have pain or an injury you can usually still train (and is often advisable to keep doing SOMETHING). When an injury is present this can be a little trickier and needs to be discussed with your physiotherapist.

So, can I keep training with Pain and Injury?

Yes! Absolutely. Obviously depending on the severity some activities and training will need to be modified. But at Sport and Spinal Physiotherapy we want to keep you training as much as possible while injured.

Interestingly, current research is suggesting that if you don’t train while you’re injured you will be at a much greater risk of any other injury when you do return.

In fact, a lot of studies have shown that the biggest risk factor for future injury is a previous injury. And that doesn’t refer to the same injury, it’s a risk factor for ANY INJURY.

Do you have Pain from too much training or exercise?

The classic example here is when you have DOMs (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). You’ve either started a new exercise or amped up your training regime and your muscles are telling you. A lot of us in this situation would think it best to rest as it’s almost too painful to move. But the worst thing you can do is nothing! Gentle movements and exercise have been shown to be the best solution. They help your muscles loosen, helps flash lactic acid and most importantly, you get to keep exercising!

Some examples of exercises with DOMs include:

  • Walking
  • Water walking
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Stretching


I’m injured, what exercise can I do?

This questions obviously depends on what injury you actually have. First of all, get it checked out by your physiotherapist. Secondly, take this opportunity as a time to improve in areas that your not as strong in.

Plantar Faciitis Heel Pain

Training with Pain and Injury: Ankle and Foot Injuries

When you have an ankle or foot injury there are many exercises you can do to keep up your fitness and strength. Depending on the injury most non weight-bearing or lower impact exercises can help keep your fitness. Some of these include

  • Swimming without kicking (or kicking if cleared by your physio)
  • Water walking
  • Cycling (if needed can be done single leg)
  • Rowing

Furthermore, you will be able to complete upper body and core strength exercises with little interruption. You may even be able to complete some lower body strength exercises, such as:

1. Clamshells

2. Leg extension

3. Hamstring Curl

Training with Pain and Injury: Knee Injuries

Again, this will depend on the injury that you have sustained. As a lot of cardio and strength exercises require flexing and extending the knee your choices may be limited. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything though! Similarly to ankle injuries often you just need a period of lower impact exercises. These could include:

  • Swimming (possibly with a bouy between your legs)
  • Water walking
  • Single Leg Cycling
  • Kayaking

Similarly to ankle injuries you should be able to complete most upper body and core strength exercises easily. You may need to take a break from a lot of lower body strength exercises unless their non weight-bearing, such as:

1. Clamshells (as in Foot & Ankle Injuries)

2. Lift and lowers


Training with Pain and Injury: Arm Injuries

Arm or upper body injuries shouldn’t interrupt cardio based exercises too much. You would need stop certain ones such as rowing, kayaking or the ski erg. But you could most likely continue:

  • Running
  • Walking or Hiking
  • Cycling (with or without upper body)
  • Elliptical Trainer (with or without upper body)
  • Stair Climbing

You could also take this as an opportunity to increase your lower body strength and control. You could complete almost any lower body exercise without weights and even some with weights. Some of these could include:

1. Squats

2. Lunges

3. Glute Bridges

4. Step Ups

Lower Back Injuries

A lot of us believe that when we have a lower back injury rest is the right thing to do. THIS IS NOT THE CASE! The best thing you can do for a lower back injury is MOVE! Sometimes this movement will need to be quite gentle such as:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Water walking
  • Recumbent bike

But depending on the severity you may be able to return to most of your previous activities with only slight modification. Such as running but a little slower and a little shorter. Or even your strength sessions. Again, this depends on your exact injury. But you could likely return to:

1. Upper Body Strength
This is usually best to be completed in a supported position. For example:

2. Leg Press

3. Hamstring Curls (see Ankle & Foot Injury Program

The overall consensus is that you CAN STILL EXERCISE WHILST INJURED. It’s even recommended as it will most likely speed up your recovery. And it will definitely reduce your risk of injury after returning from you injury!

Call us today at Sport and Spinal Physiotherapy on 62624462 and we can tailor a program for you (and your injury).




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About Jenna Cartwright

Jenna graduated from the University of Canberra with a Masters of Physiotherapy after completing a Bachelor of Applied Science in Human Biology. Her special interests include the rehabilitation of sporting injuries, post-operative rehabilitation, women's health and pilates. Jenna is a keen hockey player and is a current member of the ACT Academy of Sport and represents for the ACT Strikers. Outside of work and training she also enjoys reading, knitting and surrounding herself with family and friends.