Should you exercise through pain? Well, no workout mantra is more repeated than “No pain, no gain.” In most cases, pushing ourselves that extra mile while exercising is how we strengthen bones and muscles. But how do you know when to push through pain and when to stop?
The difference between Burn vs. Pain
The advantages of building muscle strength are well-documented for overall physical and mental health. Whatever your age, exercises to build strength help to maintain bone density, prevent chronic disease, and boost metabolism. Whether you run, lift weights or like to whack a tennis ball, there is a line between normal muscle soreness and bad pain. For muscle strength to increase, muscles must be stressed. This is what many call “feeling the burn.” It usually lasts a few days and can be accompanied by some fatigue.
On the other hand, sharp pain, swelling, painful pops, pain that gets worse over time, skin discoloration and excessive, days-long fatigue are not normal. If your muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bones are stressed too quickly or excessively, permanent damage could occur. When tendons are overly stressed, tendinitis can result. This is what brings on tendinitis of the knee. When bones are stressed too quickly, as some marathoners can attest to, stress fractures can develop. Cartilage, on the other hand, wears out as we age. It can cause irritation and swelling in joints. Each of these stressors can result in long-lasting pain.
How to prevent injuries when exercising
If you exercise correctly, and follow a few rules, you can keep stress injuries at bay.
- Always warm up with stretches or low-intensity exercises before physical activity. Warmups raise your body temperature and increase blood flow to muscles. This reduces muscle soreness and lessens the risk of injury.
- Use proper form. Work with a trainer or search YouTube for guidance to learn correct stances and techniques.
- Start slowly. Gradually increase your intensity and don’t overdo it right out of the gate. Don’t go too fast, exercise too long or do only one type of exercise. Keep the following in mind: Whatever amount of exercise you think you can do, cut it by one third the first few times you do it.
- Pace yourself and avoid becoming a weekend warrior. Don’t do an entire week’s workout within a two-day span.
- Stay hydrated. Water speeds up recovery time, removes toxins from the body, and keeps musclesin proper working order.
How to “feel the exercise burn”
Now that you know what types of pain to watch out for and how to avoid overstressing muscles, joints, tendons and bones, how do you exercise correctly? If you are strength training, follow these tips on finding the burn so you don’t feel the pain.
- Do one set of reps. Research shows that one set with a weight that fatigues your muscle after 12-15 repetitions builds muscle most efficiently.
- Use the right weight.If your muscles are tired after 12-15 reps, you’ve found the right weight. You should barely be able to finish your last lift.
- Rest your muscles.Always rest the muscle group for a full day after exercising. This will be easier if you alternate which muscle groups you work.
If you’re in prolonged pain from exercise, we can help
If you are still in pain after a few weeks of rest and anti-inflammatory medicines are not helping, you may have overstressed your body. Contact Puget Sound Orthopaedics so our health care providers can properly diagnose the cause of your pain and the severity of your injury. We’ll want to know what changes you’ve made to your exercise routine, including changes to technique, frequency and intensity. We’ll have you back on your game in no time.