Advance with MUSC Health

Enhancing Your Gym Experience: How Physical Therapy Can Alleviate Aches and Pains

Advance With MUSC Health
January 24, 2024
Physical therapist working with a patient.

As we embark on a new year, many of us are eager to dive into fitness resolutions. However, for some, the journey to a healthier lifestyle might be hindered by aches and pains experienced during workouts. As a physical therapist, I understand the significance of addressing these discomforts to optimize your gym sessions effectively and to ensure you start the year off in a healthy way!

Common Pain Points You May Experience in the Gym

As you begin a new fitness journey, or even if you have been training for years, aches and pains can creep up over time and prevent you from doing the exercises or activities that you love.

Common pain experiences with physical activity include the below.

Common Pain Points

  • Shoulder Pain: most commonly experienced during upper body weight lifting exercises such as bench press and overhead pressing.
  • Hip Pain: hip pain can be felt while running, performing squatting movement patterns or other lower body exercises
  • Knee Pain: knee sensitivity is most likely to be felt while running or performing lower body lifting patterns such as squatting, lunging or plyometric exercises such as jumping variations
  • Low Back Pain: can be very frustrating and cause sensitivity with a wide variety of exercises: squats, deadlifts, standing shoulder presses, running or rowing erg
  • Elbow, wrist and hand pain: most common with upper body strength training exercises such as push-ups, bench presses, bicep curls, tricep presses or any other exercise that requires gripping.

Understanding the Importance of Pain

Although pain during workouts can be distressing, it is your body’s way of providing feedback, letting you know you need to make adjustments with what you are asking your body to do.

Addressing aches and pains experienced during workouts is extremely important. When left unattended, these discomforts often lead individuals to worry about doing further harm, resulting in a full stop of physical activity altogether.

If you stop exercising due to persistent aches or pains, it can quickly pave the way for a more sedentary lifestyle. This sedentary behavior can eventually snowball into more severe health issues, such as obesity, metabolic diseases, cardiovascular problems, muscular atrophy, as well as a decline in mental health. By addressing and managing aches and pains effectively, we not only ensure a safer and more comfortable workout experience but also sustain the mental and physical benefits of exercise, allowing you to be the healthiest version of yourself.

How Can Physical Therapy Help?

Physical therapists are the perfect health care providers to consult with if you are experiencing aches and pains that are holding you back from doing the forms of exercise you love. We have the time to hear your story, get to know who you are and how your pain experience is affecting your quality of life.

We can perform medical screening to ensure there is nothing more serious causing your pain. From there, we can identify contributing factors to your pain and provide education and solutions that will allow you to continue to stay physically active as we address and treat your pain points.

I personally like to provide each client with a traffic light exercise system and identify a strategy that can apply to their workouts:

  • Green Light Movements: These are exercises that individuals can safely continue doing without worsening their discomfort.


  • Yellow Light Movements: These are exercises that may currently cause lower-level pain that can improve simply by modifying the exercise a bit. For example, limiting squat depth slightly or adjusting stance width and amount of out-toe can often reduce back or hip pain.


  • Red Light Movements: These are exercises that currently cause more intense pain and should be temporarily halted in order to avoid making things worse.

Don't Delay: Confronting Pain for a Healthier Tomorrow

Embarking on a fitness journey doesn't have to be synonymous with enduring pain. Exercise is such a rewarding physical and mental outlet that it is important to stay as active as possible, even while addressing injuries.

If you find yourself experiencing pain or worried about injuring yourself while exercising, be sure to consult with a physical therapist who can provide the appropriate education and guidance to get you back to doing what you love, whether it be lifting, biking, swimming or pickleball. 

Remember, while this guidance can provide general advice, consulting with a qualified physical therapist is essential to identify exercises and strategies specific to your individual needs and limitations.

Here's to a pain-free and rewarding fitness journey in the upcoming year!

Takeaways: Benefits of Physical Therapy:

  • Ensures a safer and more comfortable workout experience.
  • Sustains the mental and physical benefits of exercise.
  • Prevents a sedentary lifestyle and associated health issues.

About the Author:

Jon Mayer, PT, DPT, CSCS is a physical therapist with a specialty in strength and conditioning based in MUSC Health - Charleston.

Learn more about Physical and Occupational Therapy.