Progressing to the next level

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girls stretching in ballet class

Your approach to your graded activity plan is exactly that – yours. One size does not fit all. As you feel ready to increase your activity and intensity, do your best to avoid the following common mistakes:

  • assuming that no pain means no gain
  • letting pain be your only guide.

​As you will read below, the best approach for recovery is to understand your pain and keep moving.

Do not assume "no pain, no gain"

When it comes to activity, "no pain, no gain" sums up the idea that exercise only works if it causes you to feel pain. This may be a good strategy for professional athletes who get discomfort from exertion and training. But for people with chronic pain, this approach usually results in lower tolerance to activity in the long term. Remember, the goal is to turn down your body’s alarm system, not raise it. Pushing through pain may actually flood your sensitive nervous system​ with false danger messages and result in less overall activity.

Do not let pain be your only guide

On the other end of the spectrum is deciding to stop an activity because you feel some pain. This is a tempting approach. The natural response to experiencing more pain during an activity is to stop the activity. But if you wait until you have no pain to be active or you stop activity when you feel pain, you are letting pain control your life.

Since most of the pain you feel is a false danger message, it is not good information on which to base decisions. Letting pain be your guide can lead you to do too much activity at one time and too little at another. It also often results in pain increases earlier in your activity plan, which can eventually lead to less overall activity. The key is for you to control your life using your goals and activity plan instead of your pain.

Remember that the road to recovery means sticking to your gentle activity goals whether you are having a good pain day or a bad pain day. If you are feeling amazing and like you can exercise for longer than your goal time – don’t! Stick to your plan. If you are feeling lousy and that you can’t carry out your daily goal – do it anyway! That is why gentle small goals are so important.

Once you understand your own pain, you can plan your progression with your healthcare team. On this solid foundation of understanding, you can safely move a little more each day and gradually increase your overall activity.


Butler, D. & Moseley, G.L., 2003. Explain Pain. Noigroup Publications, Adelaide, Australia​

Last updated: May 2nd 2016