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.