How To Exercise If You Have Injuries Or Pain

How To Exercise If You Have Injuries Or Pain

I want to tell you a short story about a friend of mine who woke up one morning with the worst backache of her life. I mean…it was super bad.

And it was bizarre, too.

She’d gone to bed the previous night feeling just fine. She’d done no strenuous exercises and had not overly exerted herself with any other type of activity the previous day.

Regardless, when she woke up the next morning, everything had changed. Upon opening her eyes, she went to turn over so that she could sit up and get out of bed, but she found that her back hurt too much to move normally.

Gingerly, she rolled over.  She told me she had to squint her eyes shut just to not cry out.

Sitting, standing, and getting herself dressed took over 10 minutes because of how slowly she had to move. And it took 9, whole days for her back to feel normal, again.

To this day, she has no idea what she could have done to hurt herself, but the one thing she told me was this: “Once I could walk comfortably again, I’ve never been so grateful to just be able to move.

“My heart breaks for anyone living with pain.

“It’s absolutely miserable.”

She started working out regularly after that experience just to make sure she stayed in shape and that she’d always be able to recover quickly if something like that ever happened again.

How Do You Exercise If You’re Always In Pain Or Injured?

How To Exercise If You Have Injuries Or Pain - 1

When she was still hurting, I don’t think my friend had any interest in working out, at all. She told me that she had to lie on her back while responding to emails or texts.

Sitting just hurt too much.

And that made me wonder: If it hurts too much to sit, and if walking is torture, how do you exercise and stay fit if you’ve hurt your back or have any other kind of injury?

The thing is that there are so many types of pain that people might have. Pain caused by recovering from surgery is quite different from a sports-related injury, an injury that happens at home from falling, getting badly cut, lifting something heavy, or waking up randomly in pain one morning like my friend did.

In the former, you’re healing and often have physical therapy or specific physician-provided instructions on how to get back to full mobility.

If you have been injured in one of the latter cases, you might not always be under a physician’s care, and if you continue doing things the way that you’ve been doing them, you might end up hurt even more severely in the long run.

So how exactly do you exercise if you’re hurt?

The First Thing You Have To Do If You’re Injured Is To take It Easy

Sometimes, if you’re accustomed to being active, you can assume that the best thing to do is to get right back into physical activity, ignore the pain, and work your way back to health.

But that’s not really good thinking or advice.

Like I shared, previously, you could hurt yourself even worse.

My friend rested her back as much as she possibly could. She did walk up and down her driveway once or twice a day just so that she continued to do some moving…

…but she didn’t go to the gym, lift weights, or do anything that would exacerbate the back pain.

The Second Thing Thing To Do Is Go To The Doctor

You’d think I would recommend going to the doctor, first, but doctor’s visits can be really expensive. And most of the time, you kind of know what’s going on with your body.

If your pain is something that you think might be life-threatening, or if it’s getting worse as each day passes, you really do want to seek medical treatment because it might be something that requires surgery or medication.

Don’t stay in pain for long periods of time.

It’s not healthy, and living with pain tends to have lots of long-term consequences that are difficult to predict and that often include medications that don’t make the situation better.

Once You Understand Your Injury And Why You’re In Pain, It’s Time To Move Your Body

How To Exercise If You Have Injuries Or Pain - 2

I’m a huge proponent of progressive movement. And I am also a firm believer that, if you fix your core issues, you will fix a lot of other issues with your body, too.

You’ve probably heard me discuss both of these, before, but it’s such an important topic that I’m always going to hammer the same topics when it comes to getting healthy and staying that way.

My friend who hurt her back immediately started doing core-strengthening exercises once she was well enough to work out again.

Years ago, after my bike accident, I had to strengthen my knee. The funny thing was that my physical therapy left me in more pain over time. I had to figure out (on my own!) how to rehab my knee.

I used progressive movement core workouts and flexibility-increasing exercises to get myself back in top shape.

And my wife, who had diastasis recti – a fancy term for ab muscle separation – after giving birth to our daughter had to strengthen her core, too. Without getting specialized help from a Dr. of Physical Therapy, I doubt she would have gotten back to her pre-pregnancy stomach.

Diastasis recti just doesn’t fix itself on its own.

All of us – my friend, my wife, and me – used progressive movement and core strengthening to get back to 100%. We started with limited movements, low weights, and fewer reps until we were able to do more…

…and at a certain point, we got back to full health.

See, it doesn’t matter if you’re experiencing foot, shoulder, neck, elbow, or hand pain. Regardless of how you’ve been injured, there are exercises that you can safely do to get better, again.

Here Are A Few, General Pointers For Specific Types Of Pain

There are lots of injuries and types of pain that you might be experiencing right now. Below are some of the most common.

  • If you have back pain or a back injury: Don’t run or do ANYTHING to exacerbate the pain. Do walk, stretch, and rest the back. Get a massage if you can.
  • If you have shoulder pain or a shoulder injury: Don’t lift your arms over your head or do sports or activities with repetitive, shoulder movements. Instead, use very light weight and front shoulder movements and then rest until the shoulder is stronger and better.
  • If you have shin splints: Stop all high-impact activities that cause pain, and give your shins a break by walking, swimming, and stretching.
  • If you have neck and upper-shoulder pain or injury: Don’t do any exercises requiring you to be on your head like headstands. Walking, core strengthening, and stretching are great for neck pain. Trigger point massage by a licensed professional is also good therapy.
  • If you have weak, injured abdominal muscles: Don’t go straight to sit-ups. Those don’t strengthen or activate the core. Instead, do exercises that specifically target the transverse abdominis since they undergird all the other ab muscles and are responsible for pulling in your waistline and activate your entire core.
  • If you’ve hurt your hands/wrists or have carpal tunnel syndrome: Slow down on or completely stop repetitive hand and wrist movements like typing. Massage by a licensed professional is often great for this kind of injury, as is flexibility training.
  • Knee and ankle pain or injury: Stay off the knee/ankle. Avoid high-impact physical activity. Instead, use the elliptical, swim, and work on progressively improving your range of motion.
  • Full-body joint pain: Take your time and do what you can. You can rarely go wrong with walking. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out how you can safely exercise to increase your strength, flexibility, and capacity to be physically-active.

The bottom line is that your ability to exercise isn’t destroyed simply because you have been injured or because you have pain in your body.

I know people who have gone from a totally sedentary lifestyle to competing in the fitness industry.

You might not take it that far…but at least you know that it’s possible for you, too.

There are exercises that you can safely do to increase your strength, flexibility, and improve your overall health.

Probably the biggest thing you can do for yourself is to get a stronger core – which is impossible if you don’t know how to activate that all-important transverse abdominis muscle that I mentioned earlier.

A strong core can help to eliminate 95% of all your joint pain – no matter if that joint pain has come about because of traumatic or cumulative injury.

  • Traumatic injuries happen when playing sports, when exercising, or in daily life.
  • Cumulative injuries happen over time because you’re repeatedly using certain muscles or joints, and your body just gets worn down due to the use.

So…I’m writing this article for you to encourage you. Even if you’re in pain, most people can exercise. And everyone (regardless of pain or injury) should have a strong core since the core is the foundation of all movement.

Being in pain or getting over an injury, you might have to work at it a little more diligently than everyone else – for a while.

But once you do, you’ll find your pain decreases steadily over time and may even go away completely!

Click right here to find out how to strengthen your core (and thus your entire body!) exactly the way that nature intended.



The Garage Warrior



  1. “How to Exercise When You’re in Pain.” Melone, Linda, CSCS. Jul. 9, 2012.