The Pain Game: Deciphering Good Pain vs. Bad Pain

Starting a fitness journey can be a mixed bag of sensations. On one hand, there’s the sense of accomplishment, endorphins, and vitality that exercise brings. On the other, there’s pain. But not all pain is created equal. Understanding the difference between good pain vs. bad pain is key to maximizing your workouts while safeguarding your health. In this blog, we’ll cover the intriguing world of pain, helping you distinguish between the two and guiding you toward safer, more effective workouts.  

Women Stretching Hamstring

Before we discuss the difference, we need to understand how the term “pain” works. We consider pain as a warning signal produced by your brain to protect your body. Think about touching a hot stove, our brain instinctively tells our body to pull away protecting us from severe burn. But what about the adage, “no pain, no gain”? Well, that depends on whether the pain is harmful and causing damage or if the pain is a result of the body’s reaction to stress, like exercising or playing sports. In the rehab setting, we often navigate painful conditions and have to decide what is good pain and what is bad pain.

Good Pain: The Sign of Progress

  1. The Burn of Muscle Fatigue: Good pain often presents itself as muscle fatigue during your workout. It’s that satisfying burn you feel when you’re pushing your limits, challenging your muscles to grow stronger. This discomfort is a sign that you’re breaking down muscle fibers, a necessary step for rebuilding them stronger than before. 
  2. Soreness After a Workout: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is another form of good pain. It typically occurs 24-48 hours after an intense workout and is a result of microscopic muscle damage. This soreness is your body’s way of adapting to the demands you’ve placed on it. 
  3. Stretching Discomfort: When stretching to improve flexibility, you might experience discomfort as your muscles and connective tissues are greatly stretched beyond their usual range of motion. This is a productive form of pain that helps increase flexibility over time.

Knee Pain

Bad Pain:  The Sign of Injury

  1. Sharp, Sudden Pain: Bad pain is often characterized by sharp, sudden sensations during exercise. If you feel stabbing or acute pain, especially in your joints or ligaments, it’s a clear signal to stop what you’re doing. Continuing could lead to serious injury. 
  2. Pain That Persists: Pain that lingers beyond your workout or gets worse instead of better is cause for concern. It could indicate an injury or overtraining, both of which require rest and possibly medical attention. 
  3. Pain Altered by Form: Pain that is alleviated by adjusting your exercise form might be a sign of poor technique. While it’s good to address form issues, using pain as your guide can lead to injury.  Seek guidance on proper form from a physical therapist, trainer or coach. 
  4. Joint Pain: Any form of joint pain, especially if it’s not associated with muscle fatigue, is typically bad pain. Joints should not hurt during exercise. It’s often a sign of overuse, strain, or a structural issue.
  5. Joint Swelling: Any form of swelling can be a sign of tissue damage and should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. 

Balancing the Equation:

Listen to Your Body: Pay close attention to what your body is telling you. Learn to distinguish between the discomfort of muscle fatigue and the warning signs of bad pain. 

Progressive Overload: To make gains in fitness, it’s necessary to gradually increase the demands you place on your body. But this should be a gradual process, allowing your body time to adapt without causing bad pain. 

Proper Warm-up and Cool Down: Adequate warm-up and cool-down routines can help reduce the risk of bad pain. Warm-up prepares your body for exercise while a proper cool-down helps prevent excessive post-workout soreness. If you need some tips on how to get started, check out our Movement Prep article.



Understanding the difference between good and bad pain is critical for a successful fitness journey. While good pain signifies progress and the challenge required for growth, bad pain is your body’s warning system. It’s essential to respect and respond to these signals appropriately. By doing so, you’ll be on your way to achieving your fitness goals safely and effectively, one workout at a time. 

If you’re uncertain about the type of pain you’re experiencing, our team can help! We offer free 15-minute consultations with one of our licensed physical therapists to help give you peace of mind. Contact us to learn more.  

 In good health,

– The Salinas Teamto pro

Disclaimer: The information provided on SalinasPT’s blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. We strive to ensure the accuracy and timeliness of the information. By using this website, you acknowledge that you assume full responsibility for any actions takes based on the information provided, and we disclaim all liability for any damages or consequences resulting from such actions. Always consult a qualified healthcare professional for personalized medical advice and treatment.