8 Aches and Pains You Shouldn’t Ignore

woman holding knee in pain

Athletes, fitness buffs and novices alike all know the saying “no pain, no gain,” and to some extent, this is true.

Weight and cardiovascular activities stress the body such that we begin to positively condition ourselves to enhance strength and endurance. By pushing our physical boundaries, we can optimize athletic performance, but almost always at the cost of feeling some level of pain.

How do we know if the pain we are experiencing is normal, or if the pain is far more serious and due to an injury?

‘Good’ pain vs. ‘bad’ pain

“Good pain,” believe it or not, does exist. The most common type of good pain is the “burning” muscle pain most often felt while performing an activity such as weight lifting. The burning sensation resolves immediately upon stopping the activity; it is caused by the buildup of lactic acid, a natural byproduct produced by your muscles.

DOMS is post-workout pain

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is another common pain. It is described as a generalized ache that begins a few hours to a couple of days post-workout. DOMS is often experienced when you begin a new exercise that the body is not accustomed to, or if you have increased the intensity of your workouts.

Injury to muscle fibers and connective tissue, only seen under a microscope, occurs due to the stress of the exercise, which is the culprit for this generalized ache. DOMS typically resolves within a day or so and does not impede your ability to perform normal daily activities or movement of your limbs and joints.

While there are instances when pain is an anticipated result, caution should always be taken when you feel pain coming on when you work out or if it persists afterwards. Serious injuries such as a stress fracture or tear could be the reason for this pain. Medical attention will be needed.

When to see a physician

The following pain conditions should not be ignored and merit a visit to your doctor:

• Sharp pain that prevents you from moving a body part, decreases your range of motion, or prevents you from moving altogether

• Pain in an area that was previously injured or where surgery was performed

• Pain associated with deformity or massive swelling

• No pain relief after several days of rest, ice or over the counter anti-inflammatory medication

• Constant pain or pain that is worsening in severity

• Pain coupled with pressure and bruising

• Pain that is so intense it causes nausea and/or vomiting

• Pain associated with fevers and chills

A general rule of thumb to keep in mind: when in doubt, seek treatment from a medical professional.


Jamie Starkey, LAc

Jamie Starkey is Lead Acupuncturist at the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Integrative Medicine, where she bridges the worlds of Eastern and Western medical philosophy.
  • Sook Minh Deek

    I have a massive swelling in my pants when I wake up and 90 minutes in between, should I be concerned?

  • http://www.facebook.com/rj.naef Rj Reaper Naef

    Question, I have numbness in my arms and hands with pain and nerve issues, also chronic Siatica in both legs who is a good doc to see there that can DX and treat this it debillitating

  • Health Hub Team

    The goal is to really figure out where the root cause of the pain/numbness may be stemming from and then go from there.

    It certainly sounds like this numbness/pain could be coming from the spine. In which case, I would start with a consult with one of the docs in Medical Spine at NI’s Center for Spine Health. I typically refer to Dr. Daniel Mazanec. If this patient should require a surgical consult or injections, Dr. Mazanec would refer to one of his surgical spine colleagues. A medical spine eval would be a necessary first step.

    If a spine physician is someone she would prefer not seeing, then a neurologist (I think Dr. Richard Lederman does a very thorough job and refer to him often) would be my second option, followed by pain management (Dr. Teresa Dews at Hillcrest is great) or any of the acupuncturists on my staff. The acupuncturist would be able to address the numbness and pain, so long as proper evaluations were already done with her physician specialist. It would also be helpful to the acupuncturist if films/images are already on file.

    Thank you for your interest,
    Jamie Starkey, LAc

    • bradley

      i would recommend acupuncture and/or chiropractic to get at the root of the problem

  • really?!

    Why would you use the term “the rule of thumb?”

  • diane stevens

    my 42 year old daughter has had hyper thyroid for 12 years and is on meds. however, she has a knot in the shoulder area comes and goes (approx. 2 years, has seen chiropractor(s) and massage therapist and the pain would leave for awhile) now after an x ray they found an old compound fracture of the shoulder, hint of scoliosis, and beginning osteoporosis and higher blood pressure (120/76) which is high for her (75/70) as well as high cholesterol (114). MRI and bone density test scheduled for next week. md recommends radiation and meds for bp and cholesterol (after 1 high reading). confused what’s long term prognosis?

  • Glenda Cross

    About 30 years ago, I ran a mini cycle into an iron fence hitting my lower jaw on the fence. I had stiffness in my neck the next day but did not see an MD. 15 years ago I started having pain in my neck and then head tremors which throw off my balance. I found out that I had fractured a vertebrae in the C1-C2 area. I have seen many doctors over the years, but have not had much relief. The pain and tremor are semi-controlled with meds My primary physician told me that acupuncture is only a temporary fix. What is your opinion?