8 Aches and Pains You Shouldn’t Ignore

Know when to seek help for pain

woman holding knee in pain

Athletes, fitness buffs and novices alike all know the saying: “No pain, no gain.” To some extent, this is true. But how do you know if the pain you feel after exercise is a normal, positive sign of the work you’ve done or whether you have actually done something to seriously injure yourself?

It’s interesting that weight and cardiovascular activities stress our bodies in a positive way. These activities conditions our bodies and enhance our strength and endurance. By pushing our physical boundaries, we can perform at our best, but this almost always comes at the cost of feeling some level of pain.

RELATED: Want to Start Exercising? These 5 Tips Can Help You Prevent Injury

Pain that you shouldn’t worry about

Good pain — the “burn” when you lift weights. “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 exercise such as weight lifting. The burning sensation resolves immediately when you put the weights down. It is caused by the buildup of lactic acid, a natural byproduct produced by your muscles.

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Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) — soreness after workouts. DOMS is another common pain, which 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.

RELATED: 5 Questions to Ask Before You Exercise With Arthritis

Important caveats — when to see a doctor

While there are instances when you can anticipate pain as a result of exercise, you should always pay attention. Be cautious about pain, especially if it is severe or persists afterwards because serious injuries could be a culprit. These include a stress fracture or tear. If you aren’t sure, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. If it’s something more serious, medical attention will be needed.

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Don’t ignore any of the following pains:

  • Decreases your range of motion — Sharp pain that prevents you from moving a body part, decreases your range of motion, or prevents you from moving altogether.
  • Is in an area of a previous injury or surgery
  • Is associated with deformity or massive swelling
  • Does not go away despite care — If you do not experience relief after several days of rest, ice or over the counter anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Is constant — If pain never stops or worsens in severity.
  • Involves pressure and bruising
  • Is intense — If pain is so intense that it causes nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Is associated with fevers and chills

If you experience any of these pains, seek treatment from a medical professional. The sooner you resolve an issue with pain, the sooner you can get back to exercising.

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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.
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  • 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?

  • Tom

    I have had low back pain for years but it is worse. I have notice that it is difficult to compete urination. Sometimes I have to push it out only to back to the restroom several times during the night. I had prostrate cancer and my prostate had to be removed, That was five years ago so I know I don’t have an enlarged prostate. Could I have kidney problems?