How the "No Pain No Gain" Mentality Can Hurt People with Undiagnosed Chronic Pain

Why fitness media needs to change... or at least make some adjustments.


Its plastered on nearly every gym or place to work out, pinned up on thousands of walls, and spilled out of even more mouths. That simple statement "No Pain, No Gain" can't actually be harmful, can it? 

Basically, yes. 

Fitness bloggers and body inspiration accounts are everywhere, and its nearly impossible to walk through a magazine isle with covers upon covers telling you to push through it. But the question should be, how many of us can actually do that? Fitness and health are certainly goals that everyone should have, but for a lot of us, we can't just go into a crossfit gym and push through a whole work out. Even if you don't have a pain condition, thats probably not a good idea, and you will more than likely hurt yourself. 

But, what about those people who are living with an undiagnosed pain condition? Its impossible to know how many people are actually out there, or how many of them are even working out anyway, but the problem still exists. When someone sees so much of that kind of media, the countless bloggers and fitness guru's who claim to have gained some kind of reward or power for "pushing through the pain," it causes an inherent need to do the same. It causes a feeling of inadequacy, and a feeling that if they can do it, you can (and should) do it too. But the problem is, while some may gain something from pushing through their pain, for those with a chronic pain condition, there is very little reward in trying to push past something that will always be there. 

Trying to force yourself to get through a pain that will never go away is a fruitless task; a pointless venture that only leads to more pain. It is even more difficult to know when that pain is a legitimate medical concern, when everything around you says to just push past it, like it's not even there. That is a HUGE problem. Asking people to qualify their fitness, and at the bottom of most of it — their appearance, over pain and body signals is dangerous in a number of ways. The popularity of ignoring pain until it becomes to much to bear shouldn't be the norm, as many pain conditions can be managed if they are diagnosed quickly. But if someone has an invisible illness which is causing their pain, and you can't see it, the person ends up torturing themselves in order to get "the gain." Considering issues like eating disorders and fitness mania are propelled by the negative stereotypes in fitness, it is quite easy to see someone with chronic pain being swept under the rug in the same way. 

Jane Fonda popularized this phrase with her workout videos in the early 80s, but the concept took a life of its own and has permeated itself into nearly every aspect of fitness. Now, those who want to push themselves have tons of motivation to do so, but those who need to stay aware of their limits and body are left to fend for themselves. Anyone, regardless of pain level or condition, can benefit from knowing body awareness, and respect for your own limits. Giving a place for these concepts to grow and take root is essential to help everyone get better, grow stronger and be healthier. 

So what needs to change? In reality there is not much that can be changed right away, and there are a lot of people who don't want it to. It is easy to make money from telling people they need to keep going no matter what, and that what a lot of gyms and other fitness businesses capitalize on. It's nearly impossible to find a colorful or edgy motivating sign in a gym that also says "But listen to your body when it tells you it's too much!" Trainers and bloggers should be promoting body awareness, and the ability to determine pushing yourself — from hurting yourself. Chronic pain doesn't have a breaking point, it doesn't get worse before it gets better, it just gets worse. 

People with chronic pain want to be fit too, but its really hard to go to a public gym with the glares and stares that come from not being able to "push" it. There are plenty of things which can be gained without "pain," like balance or agility, and many other things can be gained over time such as speed, strength, and power. It may take a bit longer than someone who is able to build muscle tissue faster, but for those with chronic pain the long road is usually better, and that should be ok too. 

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How the "No Pain No Gain" Mentality Can Hurt People with Undiagnosed Chronic Pain