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Are Physical Therapy Exercises Supposed to Hurt?

Understanding Physical Therapy Exercises: Should They Hurt?


When it comes to physical therapy exercises, it's common to wonder if a little pain means you're making progress or if you're doing something wrong. After all, isn't the saying "No Pain, No Gain!"?


First of all, lets clarify what physical therapy really is. Physical therapy helps people recover from injuries, surgeries, or medical conditions that cause them loss of function. We use exercises, stretches, modalities like electrical stimulation, and other techniques to improve mobility, reduce pain, and restore function.



Physical Therapy exercises



Now, that that's clarified let's get back to the question: Should physical therapy exercises hurt?


The short answer is no, they shouldn't hurt in a way that makes you wince or grimace. I frequently tell people "if you're making a face, it's too much". However, it's normal to feel some discomfort or mild soreness during or after exercises, especially if you're working muscles that haven't been used much or are recovering from an injury, or if you are recovering from a recent surgery.


Think of it like this: when you're exercising, you're essentially asking your body to do something it's not used to doing. You are challenging it. Just like when you start a new sport or activity, your muscles might feel a bit stiff or sore as they get used to the movements. We like to call this DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness.


But there's a difference between muscle soreness and pain. Muscle soreness feels like a dull ache or stiffness and usually goes away within a day or two. Pain, on the other hand, is sharp or intense and can linger or get worse over time. DOMS is also delayed (it's part of the name), whereas pain typically occurs during the exercise of stretch. If you're experiencing pain during or after physical therapy exercises, it's important to tell your physical therapist right away so they can adjust your treatment plan.


So, how do you know if what you're feeling is normal soreness or something more serious? One way is to pay attention to how your body feels during the exercises. If the discomfort you're feeling is mild and goes away when you stop the exercise or take a break, that's a yellow light. Proceed with caution and monitor symptoms. But if the pain persists or gets worse, especially if it's sharp or shooting, that's a sign that something might be wrong or may be noxious and you should stop the exercise and talk to your physical therapist (red light)


Another thing to keep in mind is that not all exercises are created equal. Some exercises might be more challenging or intense than others, depending on your specific condition and treatment goals. Your physical therapist will work with you to create a personalized exercise program that's safe and effective for your needs. If an exercise feels too hard or causes pain, don't push through it – let your physical therapist know so they can make adjustments. We are experts at modifying exercises or just finding different ones all together.


It's also important to listen to your body and pace yourself. Most of what we want in life we can get very quickly. But the body doesn't care about that. It's important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity or duration of your exercises as you get stronger and more comfortable with them. Pushing yourself too hard or doing too much too soon can actually set you back in your recovery, so it's important to find the right balance.


In addition to exercise, physical therapy may also include other treatments like manual therapy, modalities (such as electrical stimulation, dry needling, heat or ice), or education on proper body mechanics and posture. These treatments are designed to complement your exercise program and help you achieve your goals more quickly and effectively.


So, to sum it up: physical therapy exercises shouldn't hurt in a way that makes you cringe or feel like you can't continue. It's normal to feel some discomfort or mild soreness, especially when you're starting out or trying new exercises and especially the day after. But if you're experiencing sharp or persistent pain, that's a sign that something might be wrong, and you should talk to your physical therapist right away. Remember to listen to your body, pace yourself, and communicate with your physical therapist to ensure a safe and effective recovery.

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