What to Do When You Have a New Pain from Exercise

When you feel pain during or after exercise, how do you decide what to do next?

Should you stop what you're doing and rest? Should you ignore the pain and keep going?

This is especially confusing when you're starting a new exercise program or a new type of exercise that your body isn't used to... It's hard to know what to do when brand new aches and pains start popping up.

What about when you're training for a race or a competition and you can't afford to completely stop your training but you also don't want to make the pain worse?

This is one of the most common scenarios we see in our work with Memphis athletes. As you pick up a new activity or start doing more of it, you are going to get some pain, and that's normal.

Whether you're doing more of something, starting a new program, or doing a different type of workout altogether, decision-making is the most important factor in being successful.

We're going to show you a very simple framework to evaluate your symptoms and make a smart decision for what you should do next.

We call this the "Red, Yellow, Green Light Decision-making System"

chart that describes how to modify exercise based on pain level
Red, Yellow, Green Light Decision Making System

How do I know what the different levels feel like?

A Red Light level pain is one that is escalating during the activity and changes the way you are moving and going into motions. It can also be a pain that is milder but continues for hours after the activity. You may wake up the next morning and the pain is still there, and it is there all day.

When this happens, you don't have to completely stop what you're doing, but you need to take a step back. If you do not take a step back when you first feel red lights, your body may become so irritated and sensitized that you risk having to pull back from that activity completely.

A Yellow Light is a more mild level that may be the typical pain and soreness associated with new or increased activity. As your body adapts to the new or more intense activity, it's normal for some level of soreness during and after the activity to occur. You may be sore for a little while after, but it doesn't stay around all day long and eases as the day goes on.

This pain is fine, and you can stay where you are in terms of activity level. The key is to not push beyond yellow light levels of pain and to let your body adapt to that level of activity before pushing further. Work on building strength and tolerance to this level of activity and then retesting higher levels of activity when you have become comfortable with the activity level.

A Green Light is no pain-- You can push yourself harder and continue progressing with activity!

Monitoring your levels of pain during and after exercise is very important to preventing injuries and efficiently progressing with your sport.

While there is some nuance to how this translates in different bodies and types of exercise, this system is a reliable framework to begin making smart decisions about how to train around pain.

If you've been experiencing "Red Light" or "Yellow Light" pain for a while and adjusting your activity level doesn't seem to be making a real long-term change, we can help.

We can diagnose what's wrong and provide a strategic treatment plan that will walk you step by step through recovery and back into training for performance.

Having a hard time gauging your pain and want an expert to guide you back to pain-free daily life and exercise?

Tell us what's going on, and we can discuss if you're a good fit for what we do.

2637 Broad Avenue
Memphis, TN 38112
(901) 310-3901