December 21, 2020

8 Aches and Pains You Shouldn’t Ignore

Good pain or bad? Know the different kinds and when to seek help

woman suffering from knee pain

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

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But how do you know if the pain you feel after exercise is a normal or positive sign of the work you’ve done, or whether you have actually done something to seriously injure yourself?

It can be hard to know in every case, but you can learn some things to look for to help you know the difference between pain stemming from working your body in a healthy way, versus pain that results from injury.

For example, according to acupuncturist Thuy Kim Nguyen, DAOM, LAc​, it’s common for weight training and cardiovascular activities to 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,” she says. “This almost always comes at the cost of feeling some level of pain. But it’s a different kind of pain than the kind that tells you something is wrong.”’

Dr. Nguyen discusses the difference between pain you need to be less concerned about and pain you shouldn’t ignore.

Pain you shouldn’t worry about

Good pain, or 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.

Advertisement

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)

DOMS is really just soreness after working out your muscles. It is the common pain 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, Dr. Nguyen says.​

When to see a doctor for post-exercise pain

According to Dr. Nguyen, while there are instances when you can anticipate pain as a result of exercise, make sure that you pay attention to it’s duration, or if it changes from dull to sharp, aching to throbbing, or similar. If it lasts longer than a couple days after workout, see your doctor.

Advertisement

You should always be cautious about pain, especially if it is severe or persists afterwards because serious injuries could be a culprit, Dr. Nguyen advises. These include a stress fracture or tear, or they can be signs of other health issues. If it’s something more serious, medical attention will be needed.

“If you aren’t sure, always err on contacting your doctor,“ she says.

Pain you should never ignore

There are many kinds of pain that indicate something else could be wrong. Don’t ignore any of the following types, and definitely see your doctor if your pain:

  • 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 — Pain in areas where you’ve already gone through a procedure or treatment may be a sign that something is triggering another problem in that area.
  • Is associated with deformity or massive swelling — Any time something looks different than normal, you should consult a doctor.
  • Does not go away despite care — If you don’t experience relief after several days of rest, ice or over the counter anti-inflammatory medication, call your doctor.
  • Is constant — If pain never stops or worsens in severity you should always have it looked into.
  • Involves pressure and bruising — Scan to see if this happens at all, especially if it happens frequently. Often bruising is a sign of another problem that needs medical attention.
  • Is intense — If pain is so intense that it causes nausea and/or vomiting, see your doctor.
  • Is associated with fevers and chills – There are many illnesses that can be implied if pain is accompanied by fever and chills, and these often need to be treated with medical attention.

“If you experience any of these pains, you should seek treatment from a medical professional,” Dr. Nguyen emphasizes. “The sooner you resolve an issue with pain, you may be deterring further injury — and the sooner you can get back to being your healthier self.”

Related Articles

Patient with back pain walking into doctor's appointment while doctor holds door.
August 1, 2023
7 Causes of Chronic Pain

Arthritis, migraines and endometriosis are common causes of chronic pain

spoon full of beetroot powder over sliced beets
June 25, 2023
Can Beetroot Powder Improve Athletic Performance?

The supplement can boost endurance and offer other benefits, including for sexual health

woman in bed shoulder pain
May 25, 2023
Best Sleeping Positions for Pain

Finding a neutral position can ease stress on your back, neck and shoulders

Person in car cursing.
October 30, 2022
Is Cursing a Sign of Intelligence?

Foul language may be beneficial, but it won’t make you smarter

Parent helping child from falling off bike.
September 20, 2022
Pain and the Brain: What Is the Gate Control Theory?

Not all signals of physical pain actually make it to our brains — and you have some power over it

elderly woman meditating on back porch
April 7, 2022
How You Can Ease Your Aches and Pain With Meditation

Five minutes of quiet, focused time can help

An image of turmeric in capsules.
November 9, 2021
7 Health Benefits of Turmeric

The yellow-colored spice does more than add flavor to your meals

Young gymnast puts chalk on hands in a gym setting
August 9, 2021
Athletes and Mental Health: Breaking the Stigma

Why aren’t mental health issues taken as seriously as physical issues?

Trending Topics

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try

Exercise and diet over three months is hard to accomplish.
Everything You Need To Know About the 75 Hard Challenge

Following five critical rules daily for 75 days may not be sustainable

Person in foreground standing in front of many presents with person in background holding gift bags.
What Is Love Bombing?

This form of psychological and emotional abuse is often disguised as excessive flattery

Ad