Chiswick-Physio BLOG

Pain and exercise. The traffic light analogy.
Back Pain

Read Time 7-Minutes

Pain is a universal human experience that can range from mild discomfort to debilitating agony. At Chiswick Physio, everyday we see how patients deal with pain differently.

Pain is an essential indicator of our body’s well-being, but conveying the intensity of pain to healthcare professionals can sometimes be challenging.

“How do you accurately describe the level of pain you’re feeling?

This is where the traffic light analogy comes in. A simple yet effective way to communicate and understand pain levels on a scale from 0 to 10.

Traffic light colors represent a different level of pain intensity, allowing both our clients and clinicians to assess and discuss pain more easily. In this blog, we’ll delve into the traffic light analogy of pain and explore how it can empower you to communicate your pain experiences more effectively, leading to better pain management and care.

Before we get into the traffic light system, it is important to first understand what pain is.

What is pain?

“Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience which may be associated with actual or potential tissue damage.”

The body does not feel pain. The body senses touch, temperature, and motion. Nerve signals from the body are sent to the brain, the brain then compares our physical experiences with our previous experiences, and our beliefs and behaviors help to contextualise the experience, which may or may not result in a feeling of pain. 

An important concept is understanding that although pain can be a scary and worrying thing, it does not always mean that harm is caused.

Have you ever stubbed your toe? The immediate level of pain you feel can range from 6-10/10, however, after a while you can’t feel it anymore and your toe is often uninjured. This example helps with our understanding that pain is a perception formulated within the brain. 

Pain and the traffic light analogy

Here at Chiswick Physio, we understand that pain can be debilitating, it can reduce your levels of activity, and can affect your mental health. 

In our treatment sessions we often discuss pain with our clients using a ‘Traffic Light’ score. This provides a representation of pain levels and helps our clients to understand what to do when they experience certain levels of pain. 

Green

(Pain level 0-3 / 10)

Just as with driving, green means go. This colour represents low levels of pain, ranging from 0 to 3 out of 10. 

If you are exercising or partaking in an activity and you experience pain within the 0-3 range, we are happy for you to continue with the activity and increase the effort in some way. For example, if completing a squat, it would mean you can try to increase the level of weight OR sets OR repetitions. 

Similarly, if you experience 0-3 / 10 pain following an activity or the following day, we are happy for you to continue with and progress this activity as required.

Amber

(Pain level 4-5 / 10)

When we see the traffic lights turn to amber, we prepare to stop. This colour represents medium levels of pain, ranging from 4 to 5 out of 10. 

If you are exercising or partaking in an activity and you experience pain within the 4-5 range, we advise you to continue with caution. For example, if completing a squat, it would mean remaining at the level of weight, sets, and repetitions rather than increasing these. 

Similarly, if you experience 4-5 / 10 pain following an activity or the following day, we are happy for you to continue with this activity as required, at the same level.

Red

(Pain level 6-10 / 10)

When we see the traffic lights turn to red, we must stop. This colour represents high levels of pain, ranging from 6 to 10 out of 10. 

If you are exercising or partaking in an activity and you experience pain within the 6-10 range, we advise you to stop, or regress the exercise. For example, if completing a squat, it would mean stopping completely or reducing the level of weight AND/OR sets, AND/OR repetitions. 

Similarly, if you experience 6-10 / 10 pain following an activity or the following day, we would advise you to stop or regress this activity. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the traffic light analogy provides a helpful framework for understanding and assessing pain levels on a scale from 0 to 10. Just like a traffic light, where green indicates low pain, yellow signifies moderate pain, and red represents severe pain, this system allows individuals to communicate the intensity of their pain in a simple and universally understandable way.

Moreover, the traffic light analogy allows our clients to express their pain experiences beyond the limited spectrum of “pain” and “no pain. This then allows a confidence in continuation or progression of activity and rehabilitation and limits any major aggravation of an injury or its symptoms.  

We are here for you

If you’re in pain and would like to talk to us about getting some help, some specialist advice, or if you are looking for a diagnosis, remember we are always here to help you.

Appointments remain limited and we are experiencing an exceptionally high demand for our physio services, so please contact us immediately to avoid a long wait.

If you would like to get one of our limited slots, please click HERE to email or CALL us on 07900603617.

Pin It on Pinterest