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  • Writer's pictureMark Austin

Hurt vs. Harm: Understanding the Difference May Be An Integral Part of Your Recovery


Let’s cover a very important concept for nearly every person that I see in my practice: how to know what kind of pain is okay to experience as you navigate your way back to feeling better. Everyone feels pain at some point in their lives; it is a complex experience with many different contributing factors. However, not all pain is harmful, and understanding the difference between 'hurt' and 'harm' is an important concept in managing your pain. First, what is hurt? Hurt is the sensation of pain, discomfort, or unpleasantness that we experience in our bodies. Hurt can be caused by injury, inflammation, or various chronic medical conditions. This kind of pain can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term), and it can be mild, moderate, or severe. This sensation can deter us from wanting to take part in various aspects of our lives, such as work, physical activity, or spending time with others.

In comparison, harm refers to damage or injury to the body that can result from trauma such as a broken bone after a fall or whiplash from a motor vehicle accident. It may be a muscle or ligament tear from sports, or a tendinitis caused by repetitive work or overdoing it in the gym. Beyond physical harm, it can also be emotional or psychological in nature. Harm directly relates to tissue damage, loss of function, or interference with daily activities.

Hurt and harm can happen at the same time, especially in the early days and first three months after you are injured. However, after the three-month mark, research shows that the relationship between hurt and harm starts to break down—you can experience a lot of ‘hurt’ when you do a certain movement or activity, but not much actual ‘harm’ may be taking place. This experience is different for everyone and every injury. Knowing and understanding the difference between hurt and harm is important because it can help you manage your pain and recovery much more effectively. Some activities may cause hurt, but they may not necessarily cause harm. For example, doing some light exercise or stretching may cause some discomfort or pain initially, but it often may help alleviate pain in the long run by improving muscle strength and flexibility. In contrast, some activities may not cause much hurt, but they can cause harm. For example, sitting for long periods of time without changing postures or taking breaks to move around can cause harm to the back and neck, even if it does not cause immediate pain.

Avoiding hurt for too long can also cause harm over time, as we become deconditioned from decreased physical activity, and experience fear, stress, and boredom, and other mental health issues brought on by decreased engagement in life.


Don’t forget-- everyone’s experience of pain is unique, and what causes hurt or harm for you may not be the same for someone else. However, by understanding the difference between hurt and harm, we can make better decisions about how to manage our pain and prevent further injury or damage to our bodies, and when it might be okay to push into discomfort and challenge ourselves a little.


Your physiotherapist is your best resource for differentiating hurt from harm and can provide expert-level insight on what is okay and what isn’t as you recover. Never hesitate to reach out with questions and advice as you navigate your recovery.


Get in touch with Mark here or book an appointment online today.


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