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I often read on sports websites that X player played through the pain and helped his win the game.

What exactly does through mean here?

The dictionary meaning of through closest to the context seems to be

from beginning to end of (an experience or activity, typically a tedious or stressful one)

like through a bad incident or accident.

My question is that how is it through the pain not in the pain? Because most likely the player would still have the pain even after the game.

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    Pain here is not an activity but a state conceived as an obstacle, so the sense in which through is employed here is more like moving through a barrier. – StoneyB Mar 5 '13 at 13:57
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It's common in the context of physical sports to speak of the pain barrier.

If you suffer some kind of injury (on the football pitch, say), your first instinct might be to stop moving so as to protect yourself from further damage. But of course, our bodies and our response patterns have been evolving over millions of years - if the injury was caused by an attack that might still be ongoing, you're more likely to survive (and leave descendants) if you ignore the pain, and keep fighting or fleeing.

It may be that playing through the pain [barrier] will actually cause additional damage which could have been avoided by stopping immediately you became aware of a problem. But just as failure to fight/flee could cause you to die if you'd been injured by an ongoing attack, failing to play on might mean you/your team lose the game.

The sense of through here is to a point beyond pain (rather than continously, as in "I sat through the entire lecture without understanding a word"), but note that normally you're only going through the pain temporarily. In most cases continued activity will cause more pain in total. But for that critical period in the game/fight, your body will produce endorphins (natural painkillers), helping your adrenalin-charged brain to force you to fight/play on. You might well think it that was a good trade-off in the circumstances.

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The expression means that the player suffered an injury during play, which caused them some amount of pain. But the player chose to keep playing (and was able to play well and win, despite the pain) rather than have some other player take their place (or to forfeit the match, if it's an individual competition).

The phrase can work on several levels. Most straightforwardly, you can interpret "through" in the sense of "past" or "beyond" (definition 2 at dictionary.com); the pain started at a particular point in time and the player kept going past that point.

Alternatively, you could view the pain as a barrier to the player's success. Most people, when they are in pain, will (quite rightly) stop doing serious activities until they get treatment. The player, however, broke through the barrier and won the game anyway. So, in that sense, he played through the pain.

Also, in many cases when it's a relatively minor thing, it is entirely possible for the pain to go away during extended use; for example when a tennis player pulls a muscle in their leg, it may hurt quite a bit, but continuing to use it will keep the blood flow up and possibly improve the output of endorphins, so the muscle would stop hurting after further play. (They'd still want to get treated for it after the match is done, though.) So from a duration point of view here, they played through the entire period where they had pain.

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This phrase means that he played even though he had pain.

"Through" in this context is referring to the idea that he didn't let the pain stop him or slow him down, so he played right on through it.

This is just a common idiom that I think most native English speakers never stop to analyze. When they grew up they heard the phrase at some point and gathered the meaning from the context, and it just became part of their vocabulary - without really analyzing whether it even makes sense.

In sports, many somewhat nonsensical phrases have evolved from overly excited sports announcers, etc. Many of those phrases make far less sense than this one, but they continue to propagate since they're funny or rhyme, etc.

Note: here are some more interesting sports phrases:

He schooled him - He completely defeated his opponent and made him look bad while doing it.

He got schooled - The opposite of the previous phrase; he lost very badly.

He got thumped - Again, he lost very badly.

He got his butt kicked - He lost badly.

He belted that one - He hit the ball very hard.

Grab some pine - You played poorly, go sit on the bench and let someone better play

He grew roots - He didn't move when he should have

Nothing but net - Great basketball shot where it didn't even touch the rim, it just went perfectly through the hoop.

Note: many of these are considered slightly offensive, but are intended to antagonize your opponent during a match.

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