In sports, this expression is sometimes used, when it is known that a player has some injury:

He played through the pain.

According to dictionaries, "through" means "until the end of". So, does the expression mean he keeping playing until the end of the pain?

2 Answers 2


The expression does not mean that he played until the pain ended.

It is understandable that you should be confused in this particular case: pain is a state and play is an activity, both of which have duration, so it is natural that you should think of through as having the sense of throughout—from the start of the pain to its end.

We sat through a long and boring lecture.
He played at the top of his form through the entire game.

But in fact through here is used in its ‘primary’ sense of ‘in one side and out the other’, as when we speak of breaking through a barrier. Pain presented a (continuous) obstacle to his playing, but he successfully (and continuously) ‘penetrated’ the obstacle and played (continuously) anyway.

Here are a couple more examples of penetrative through in a durative context:

We drove through a blinding snowstorm to Prague.
He maintained his high purpose through political opposition and bureaucratic delay.

  • Is "play through pain" sports lingo?
    – meatie
    Jul 20, 2014 at 14:32
  • 1
    @meatie Well, there's not much need for the expression outside of sports, though I suppose you could speak of a chess player or musician playing through pain. Or something like "He continued playing the stockmarket through the pain of his divorce." Jul 20, 2014 at 14:34
  • @meatie: Note that dedicated athletes/sportspeople usually recognise the concept of a "pain barrier". I'm not that dedicated myself, but I think the idea is that at a certain level of pain the body releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers. If you get to that point you've "played through the pain", and can better focus of the important thing - winning. Jul 20, 2014 at 20:59
  • @ StoneyB I encountered the expression recently in the live-action Beauty and the Beast movie, where the maestro (in piano form), suffering from toothache, is told to play through the pain by his wife. So yes, it seems to be used in a musical context.
    – RobertG
    May 2, 2017 at 18:56

"Through," in this case, doesn't mean "until the end of," but rather it's used to express that "he played in spite of the pain." It's as if the pain were a resistive force that is pushing him to not play, but in spite of this resistance, he played.

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