Rehab & Loading- The Traffic Light System Explained

Your body adapts to the loads that it is put under on a regular basis. This ensures that your tissues regenerate in response to the stresses exerted on them to enable them to withstand the stress better in the future. This is how we get stronger. When this process goes wrong we end up with a tissue in disrepair – an injury – commonly this is due to sudden unaccustomed increases in load without the appropriate time for recovery and regeneration of tissue.

The Traffic Light System:

This is a system we teach patients in order to help them monitor their return to activity and gauge their progress. It is hard to know how to manage a new injury and how far you should push yourself. Your body is designed to adapt and change in response to stress and sometimes it is OK to feel discomfort when returning to activity. It is your in-built ability to heal and recover that will then decide how quickly you can push things.


  • Monitor your symptoms – pain, swelling and movement – these should be noted DURING exercise, LATER that day, and the next MORNING.
  • It is OK to feel some pain DURING when trying out something new, we normally say working up to 4 out of 10 pain is acceptable.
  • If you do not experience problems during exercise but are struggling LATER that day; this could be a sign you have overdone it a bit.
  • The key time to monitor your progress is the next MORNING. This is where the traffic lights come in…

GREEN LIGHT – no increase in symptoms – you are fine to do the same activity again or try a little bit more.

AMBER LIGHT – Some increase in symptoms but able to move normally within 1 hour AND back to normal within 24 hours – proceed with caution. Try the same activity again after 48 hours and do not progress it until you have achieved a green light.

Red Light– Big increase in pain and/or pain that does not settle within 24 hours – you have done too much, give it 48 hours rest, get moving gently and go easier next time.

Keeping a written training diary can help you to follow your progress and notice any reoccurring patterns to your symptoms.

We usually advised that when introducing new activities or increasing training you have two days of low load to follow to allow recovery time. Hard sessions should be on every 3rd day.

If you are unable to achieve GREEN LIGHTS when doing new activities then it is advisable to contact a physiotherapist.