No pain, no gain? Not so fast. Pain felt during exercise could be your body telling you to gear it down. If you try to push through sharp pains emanating from your joints or muscles, you might be risking injury.
All exercise-related pain is not bad. There is good pain and there is bad pain, and if you can't figure out which is which, you should consider consulting with a fitness expert or your personal physician.
Good Pain: that's the post-workout soreness you feel, maybe an achy joint or two, after you’ve just worked out for the first time in a long time. Or maybe you work out regularly but have just amped up the number of repetitions of specific exercises or duration or overall intensity of a cardio workout.
Bad Pain: You've suffered an injury, and you know it. Maybe it's a knee or a shoulder, or even your lower back, which is where many of us are most vulnerable. "There's a pain of injury and a pain of adaptation—one is bad and the other is good," says San Francisco Bay Area-based exercise physiologist and physician Justin Mager, quoted by Fox News. '"Pain after properly executed exercise means that your body is adapting to become more fit."
Mager speaks from experience. While working out with weights, he started feeling significant discomfort in his left knee. An Olympic weightlifting coach suggested to Mager a different technique for doing squats. "Now my knee feels better than ever," Mager says. "If you don’t have any pain prior to your activity, and then you experience pain while you're performing a particular movement, you should take a step back and have a trainer evaluate your biomechanics."
Experienced athletes know this: some pain is typical of athletic activity, beyond the kind of pain experienced in collision sports such as hockey or football. In that sense at least, it is true—no pain, no gain. For us to increase our muscle strength, we must subject our muscles to a level of stress—via a workout—that is beyond what they are accustomed to. That's what hopkinsmedicine.org refers to as "the burn." Adds the website: "Fatigue after a good, strenuous workout is also a sign that the exercise is pushing the limits of the athlete's physiology, but it should not be excessive. This fatigue should leave the individual exhilarated but not overly exhausted."
Should I Expect Exercise Pain?
Those of us who have not exercised for a matters of weeks, months or—gulp!—years need to be ready for the soreness that will hit several hours after that first-in-a-blue-moon workout, and that will be nothing compared to when it comes time to crawl, literally, out of bed the next day. This is how our muscles tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bones of the body react to exercise's stress. Each of them react in their own way, which is why someone working out—whether novice or pro—needs to exercise with caution and a conservative pace of progress.
To some extent, pain needs to be tolerated, but it also needs to be treated. Following are several pain-treatment strategies, outlined by hopkinsmedicine.org:
- Cut back on exercise activity for a while. Avoid doing anything that hurts at the time you are performing the activity. If you are concerned about losing aerobic stamina, consider doing an alternate activity: if bad knees or foot issues rule out running for a period of time, try swimming. Maybe there is no pool nearby or you aren't a strong swimmer, but if you are serious about fitness, you can adapt and overcome.
- Applying an ice pack to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, immediately after a workout, should help. Alternating ice and heat applications is no longer recommended. All together now: "Ice, ice, baby." If pain persists, consult a physician.
- Tip No. 3: Once the workout is over, keep moving the joint or extremity to help reduce stiffness. This not only helps cut back on pain at the time, it also helps prepare the joint or extremity to perform properly a day or two later at the next workout.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatories can help relieve ache and pains. Aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen and the like can reduce pain as well as swelling. Just be sure to read the labels closely and to consult with your physician if you have any trepidation or questions regarding usage.
Of course, don't forget about prevention. Warming up for 10 or 15 minutes prior to a workout is advisable, such as with an easy jog or a few spins of the pedals on a stationary bike. After is the best time for stretching. Consult a fitness coach for stretching suggestions.