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 training and cardiovascular activities stress our bodies in a positive way. These activities condition 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.