joint pain from exercise
Marian Barnick

Marian Barnick

Registered Kinesiologist and Human Movement Specialist


We all know that exercise is like a Magic Pill for almost everything.  

From living longer, curing diseases, to preventing some forms of cancer.  

Even after an injury, exercise is important to:

  • decrease swelling
  • improve range of motion
  • get your strength back
  • return to sport


But many people are getting joint pain when they exercise causing them to slow down and maybe even eventually stop exercising and losing all the benefits that are available.


How can exercise be good yet cause so much pain?



body alignment


Research shows that trips to the Emergency Department for exercise injuries have doubled over a 10 year period. 


These are injuries from exercising on your own – not football, not rugby, and not falls off a treadmill.  Just simple exercise.


How can that be? 

Exercise is supposed to help you feel better, not cause injuries.


knee pain when walking

We know people LOVE their sports and WANT to be active.



They want the benefits that come with exercise and the thrill of competing.  

But musculoskeletal pain is getting in the way.



This makes it a daunting task to return to sport after an injury or after surgery.


People are having to settle for a more sedentary lifestyle that really isn’t what they want.  It’s frustrating and it leads to even more health issues as we age.



There’s a problem when you know the solution to your pain is exercise but you can’t exercise because of pain.  


ankle joint pain


Most joint pain comes from the wear and tear on the joints over a long period of time.



Muscles pull on joints to get them to move.  This includes activities for sports like walking, running, throwing, or jumping as well as things you do everyday like climbing stairs or folding laundry.  


The smoother the joint moves, the less wear and tear on the joint.



When the forces generated from the muscles don’t act on the joint in the way the joint is supposed to move, it causes distraction on the joint.  Small movement outside of the ‘proper’ alignment of the joint that creates friction.



The friction is what wears down areas of the bones in the joint over time.


This not only causes pain, but decreases performance and mobility.



It’s very simple.  We need to improve our body alignment.


It’s a fact that the majority of musculoskeletal pain that stops people from exercising is caused by poor body mechanics.


This includes joint pain, muscle pain, muscle weakness, overuse injuries, stress fractures, and the list goes on.


Of course traumatic events like an accident can cause joint injuries and pain.  But after rehabilitation, when you want to get your life back and be active again, it’s the alignment issues that cause long term problems.


When you have good body alignment, when you maintain neutral postures and proper gait mechanics, your joints move smoothly, muscle activation is balanced, and your body move with efficiency.  


This is proper body alignment.

body alignment


Let’s take a look back to when you didn’t have any pain when you moved.

When you walked, ran, played, jumped.  Do you remember having any pain when you moved as a kid?

Chances are the answer is no. 

Chances are you remember being a kid and running and jumping.  Playing baseball, tennis, or basketball, jumping rope and riding your bike. 

And never once thinking about pain in your joints or tight muscles.

junior athlete

So what happened? 


Why do you get hip pain when you walk?


Why do you get that stabbing lower back pain when you play tennis or knee pain when walking down stairs?


Something happened between the age of 10 and your present age that created those aches, pains, and issues.


Your biomechanics – how your body moved as a kid was close to flawless. 


Muscles weren’t tight.  Joints moved with no effort at all and you felt like you could leap tall building and land on your feet without crushing knee pain.


What’s been lost is your body alignment.  There’s no more ease of movement.  No movement efficiency.  Every time you move your body it feels like work.


And we lose our alignment because of compensatory movement patterns.



As we aged, we’ve damaged our body.


It could have been a fall, a car accident, sports injury, a twisted ankle, a fall on the ice, or surgeries, medical treatments, and disease.


In order to cope with the pain and mobility issues from these problems our bodies developed compensatory movement patterns.


It’s ingenious really.  Your body figured out a way to try and alleviate the pain and keep you functioning.


You limp to get to the bathroom when your ankle is sore.

You arch your back to reach into the cupboard when your shoulder is injured.

Your hip pulls double duty to help out when your knee is swollen.


These are compensation movements.

And they’re created by your brain

body alignment assessment

Neuroplasticity and Movement

Your brain is the CEO of your body.

The muscles are just soldiers doing exactly what the CEO tells them to do.


So if you develop knee pain when walking, upper back pain between the shoulder blades, unbearable shoulder pain, the brain creates a way to avoid the pain.  It tells the muscles to stop pulling on the knee, stop moving the low back, and it has other muscles work harder, for example the muscles that activate hip movements.


That’s neuroplasticity.  It’s the brain’s ability to adapt, change, and re-organize based on experiences, tasks, and external events.


When your body mechanics change after an injury and you limp when you walk, that’s the brain establishing new motor control patterns.  This new gait pattern has been developed to avoid pain.  To avoid using an area of your body that sends signals to the brain that there’s pain.

compensatory movement patterns

These new patterns are not created with proper body mechanics.  They’re dysfunctional movement patterns.  They’re created only to serve as a short term solution to allow you some level of function when you have pain.


But these compensatory movement patterns become habitual.  You aren’t even aware of them after a while.  You don’t consciously know that you’re limping, that your biomechanics have changed.


And if you don’t help your body re-learn how to move with proper alignment, those compensations stay with you.


So without proper training to have your brain return your movement patterns to those with proper body alignment, your body keeps on using these compensations.




rehabilitation therapy

After your accident, injury, or surgery, you were probably told to stretch.  Perhaps you even received a print out for some basic stretches or sent to see a Rehabilitation Therapist to help you with the muscles or joints that were injured.


You may have been told to:

     “Take it easy for a while.” or

     “Listen to your body.” or

     “Do what you can.”


I’ll bet you were also told “Get back to exercising.  It’s good for you”.


What I’m guessing is that no where within your recovery process were you provided with a Body Alignment Screen to learn how to get your body back into neutral body posture.  You probably were never given body alignment stretches that would be right for your body and your movement patterns.


This is exactly why it hurts to move. 

Your body is still moving with compensations.

Let’s go back to neuroplasticity for a moment to explain why.


There’s been no external force, no provided input for your brain to change the way you’re moving.


Remember, your brain changed how you move because of pain.  And it will keep on using these compensatory movement patterns until you tell the brain you don’t need them.


That’s why you need to actively work on your body alignment. 


This is what’s going to alleviate the pain, let you exercise, and help you reach your goals.




The first place to start is to determine what’s out of alignment.


Where you feel pain, where you’ve got symptoms, may not be the cause of the problem.

This is why it’s important to treat the source of the problem and not just the symptoms.


There are many times that knee pain is caused by problems with hip mobility.  And it’s the lack of hip function that causes improper biomechanics at the knee joint. 


This is the compensation that occurs.


Get a Body Alignment Screen to check your individual joint mobility BUT also how your body works as a unit.

What you want to discover is how well your body coordinates joint mobility and muscle contractions to completes functional tasks .  Because we don’t use our joints in isolation as we go about our daily activities and our sports.


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