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Understanding Hurt vs Harm: A Physiotherapist's Guide for Safe Rehabilitation

As a dedicated physiotherapist, I often encounter patients who are understandably cautious when it comes to exercise and daily activities during the course of their rehabilitation. It's common for patients to experience discomfort or mild pain during these activities, which can lead to concerns about potential harm. In this blog post, I aim to shed light on the crucial difference between "hurt" and "harm" to help patients navigate their rehabilitation journey more confidently.

Hurt vs. Harm: The Fundamental Difference

Before we delve into the details, it's vital to understand the basic distinction between "hurt" and "harm." Hurt: Hurt refers to the sensation of discomfort or mild pain that you may experience during physical activities or while performing exercises. It's often a natural response to challenging your body during the rehabilitation process. Hurt is typically temporary and can be an indicator of progress and improvement in your condition. Harm: Harm, on the other hand, signifies actual damage or worsening of your condition. Harm typically results from pushing your body beyond its current capabilities, ignoring pain that is severe, sharp, or long-lasting, or using incorrect form during exercises. Harm can set back your progress and lead to more significant issues.

Navigating Hurt during Rehabilitation

  1. Know Your Pain: It's crucial to distinguish between different types of pain. A sharp, sudden, or severe pain should be a red flag and may indicate harm. In contrast, a dull, achy, or moderate discomfort is often associated with the hurt that accompanies rehabilitation.

  2. Communicate with Your Physiotherapist: Your physiotherapist is your partner in your rehabilitation journey. Open communication is key. If you're experiencing pain that is more than just a temporary hurt, let your physiotherapist know. They can adjust your treatment plan or provide guidance to ensure you're on the right track.

  3. Progressive Overload: Part of rehabilitation involves gradually challenging your body to improve its strength and function. It's normal to experience some hurt as you push your limits. The key is to do so progressively, with a structured plan designed by your physiotherapist.

  4. Proper Form: Incorrect exercise form can lead to harm rather than hurt. Your physiotherapist will teach you the correct form for each exercise. Ensuring that you follow these guidelines will minimize the risk of harm.

  5. Rest and Recovery: Adequate rest and recovery time is essential for your body to adapt and heal. Overworking your muscles and joints without giving them time to recover can lead to harm.

Daily Activities and Hurt vs. Harm

The principles of hurt vs. harm also apply to your daily activities:

  1. Pacing: As you go about your daily tasks, be mindful of your body's signals. If you experience mild discomfort (hurt), it's often a sign that you're engaging your muscles and joints, which can be beneficial for your rehabilitation.

  2. Modification: You may need to modify certain activities temporarily to avoid harm. Discuss this with your physiotherapist, who can offer suggestions for adapting your daily routines.

  3. Balance: Striking a balance between staying active and allowing time for your body to heal is key. Your physiotherapist can help you find this equilibrium.


Understanding the difference between hurt and harm is a vital part of your rehabilitation journey. Embrace the mild discomfort of "hurt" as a sign of progress and improvement, while always being cautious about "harm." Your physiotherapist is your best resource for guidance and support, so don't hesitate to ask questions or express concerns. By working together, you can ensure a safe and effective rehabilitation process that helps you regain your strength and functionality while avoiding potential harm.

Dan Morwood

Physiotherapist, DPT, CAFCI, CGDNT

Peak Performance Physiotherapy & Sports Rehab Centre

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