Pain With Exercise? A Physical Therapist Shares What (and What Not) To Do

Written by: Dr. Daniel Waskiewicz, PT, DPT

Whether you’re working out at a gym or at home, having pain during an exercise can be a common -and frustrating- situation. The question is: what should you do if you’re having pain during  exercise? To answer this question, let’s first consider what most people do…

Option one: Say, “no pain, no gain” and continue with the exercise. Working or exercising through pain is wrong for so many reasons! When we feel pain during an activity, it’s a warning sign from our body. Pain doesn’t automatically mean that your body is damaged; however, it does tell you that something is wrong. I often use the analogy of a car check-engine light turning on. Sure, you have the option to continue driving the car without getting the engine looked at. Although it’s likely the car could run for a while, there’s no guarantee when it will break down and you’ll be stuck in the middle of a busy road! Pain is your body’s check engine light; and although you can choose to push through it, that might result in serious injury or your “car breaking down.” Thus, it is always important to listen to your body when you are experiencing pain and NOT fight through it.

Option two: Say, “I should never perform this exercise again” and completely avoid it. I would also argue that this is the wrong option. Exercise is vital to our ability to function on a daily basis and prevent future injury. When I tell patients how positive exercise is for them, I often use the saying of “bulletproof your body.” When an exercise is painful, it could be painful for a variety of reasons, such as: having poor form, poor quality of movement, excessive weight/load, or excessive range of motion. The great thing about these reasons is we can MODIFY them. This means that with several subtle changes, we can directly impact the exercise and make it nonpainful, allowing you  to work out and “bulletproof” your body – instead of giving in to pain.

This is where our next video series comes in! Starting in early February, we will discuss four common exercises and accompanying pain that people of all ages are faced with. We will then dive into quick and easy modifications you can make in order to make the exercise nonpainful. These changes will allow you to accomplish the same (or better!) gains, so you do not lose a step in your training. The four exercises and common accompanying pains that we will be addressing in the video program are listed below:

  1. Shoulder Pain with Bench Press
  2. Knee Pain with Squat
  3. Hip Pain with Squat
  4. Back Pain with Deadlift

In conclusion, it’s important to mention that not everything can be fixed with a modification. This is where we come in as physical therapists. We can provide a detailed and advanced assessment to determine the WHY behind the painful exercise, and develop a customized plan to decrease your pain and improve your function. So, if the modifications we discuss in this video series do NOT impact your pain, then it’s time to come in and see us at Body One Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine.


Body One is both locally owned and operated, with three convenient locations serving Central Indianapolis: North Meridian, Fishers, and Zionsville. Our team of expert physical therapists treats patients of all ages and activity levels and we’re ready to help get you back to what you love doing. If you’re ready to move and feel better, recover faster, and live healthier, call or click today!