When pain doesn’t equal injury . . . what is the implication for your recovery / CrossFit Training?

Sometimes old news can be good news. Outside Magazine just publish a new article to reaffirm that pain doesn’t always mean injury. I’ve been saying this for years now and if you could kinda grasp the idea behind it, it would have tons of benefits for pain sufferers and CrossFit athletes alike.

Why does pain not equal injury?

foot stepping on lego, pain scienceThe article highlighted a very important differentiating factor, which has heaps of implications on exercise, between pain and injury. That is, injury is objective! You can observe or measure it objective. Pain, on the other hand, is subjective experience. It cannot be objectively measured.

Even when chiropractors ask you to rate your symptom experience,  the rating you give would be based on your subjective experience. As you can imagine, another person with a completely different pain tolerance may rate your experience very differently! Pain is never truly objective.

You can think of it as injury being a description of your true tissue state while pain being your true experience. While pain and injury can indeed occur together (e.g., when you break your leg), they are not the same thing and they don’t have to occur at the same time.

For example, stepping on a lego (or one of the reflexology stones) can be very painful. However, we know there’s no injury in such instances.

So, pain doesn’t equal injury because they are different constructs and they don’t have to occur at the same time.

Since pain doesn’t equate injury, does that mean more pain is okay?

old woman kettlebell, knee pain singapore, knee arthritis
There are tons of stories on how people with pain use exercise to help themselves find true freedom from pain. While this is completely not intuitive, the latest research suggest this is the best solution for chronic pain.

Yes, and no.

If you are (objectively) injured and in pain, more pain is not okay! In fact, if you are objective injured, higher training load — even if you are not in any pain — is also usually not okay!

At the end of the day, because pain and injury are completely different constructs, it doesn’t make sense to use pain or the lack of pain as an indicator of anything!

Have a think about it, your tissue state does not change just because of your feelings of the day.

We all have days where we feel better at the gym and days that we feel worse at the gym. Quite often, the general advice is to train harder on good days and to back off a little on bad days. Well, that doesn’t make sense!

The objective capacity of your tissue DOES NOT change just because you are feeling better about yourself.

Having said that, if you experience pain but have no injury, which is what happens in majority of chronic, low back pain, having more pain with exercise doesn’t mean it’s bad for you.

It comes down to only one question: What can your body actually support?

(Remember, what your objective can support is always objective!)

How do I then go about programming my own training?

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The best thing to do is to work with a coach. A good coach is able to observe your movements and performance to determine what is an adequate amount of training for you.

If you are writing your own training programme, use objective markers. A good objective marker would be your training history.

Many athletes do indeed use rate of perceived exertion (RPE) in their training. That is, they rate how how much exertion they are experiencing at the end of each exercise set. This is a perfectly acceptable practice!

It’s always good to reflect on your level of perceived exertion so you have an idea of how hard you are pushing yourself. However, as the name itself suggests, RPE only rates perceived exertion. NOT risk of injury! NOT tissue capacity.



Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, Chiropractor Jesse Cai found Square One Active Recovery to deliver meaningful and sustainable pain solutions.

Our goal? To make our own services redundant to you.

*We do not offer temporary pain relief such as chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, or any form of soft tissue therapy.