Who hasn’t heard the saying, “No pain, no gain?” The origin of this popular saying lies in the domain of fitness. What it says is true: no improvement in fitness is possible without subjecting your body to greater stress than what it’s used to. It doesn’t imply what is false: that exercise pain will necessarily result in improvement in fitness. Exercise pain can result in a loss of fitness.
It’s necessary to distinguish the good pain that you feel during the exercise activity from the good pain you feel afterwards. During the activity, as you increase stress on muscles, you may experience a “mild burn.” This is good pain. This is the pain that causes your body to adapt to greater demands placed upon it. This pain should be transient, lasting only for the duration of the activity.
The good pain you feel after exercise is muscle soreness. It occurs when you do a new exercise to which you are not accustomed or if you do a familiar exercise with greater duration and/or intensity. This soreness typically begins within a few hours but peaks around two days after exercise. It is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). If this soreness is too severe and lasts much longer, it’s an indication that you’re overtraining and you need to cut down.
To obtain relief from soreness, do not exercise the same muscle group again until the soreness has subsided. Stretching, a professional massage and anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can also help.
The muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilages, and bones of the body are living structures that adapt best when stress on them is increased gradually over many exercise sessions. When too much stress is placed on them too quickly, they can fail. Bad pain results from injuries to these structures.
- Muscles: If a muscle is exercised too much it can become very sore to move and touch, and may even swell. In addition to pain, you may notice redness and feel some heat in the area. It’s even possible to overwork a muscle to the point where it begins to die.
- Ligaments, tendons and cartilages: Injuries to these structures cause them to get inflamed and are manifested in joint pain in the wrist, knees, elbows, or ankles. If you feel pain in your knees while climbing stairs or getting out of a chair, it is likely tendonitis of the knee.
- Bones: Exercise should increase the density and strength of the bones, not weaken or injure them. Bones are living structures that need time to adapt. Very strenuous activity can cause the bone to fracture, which is first felt as pain along the bone during the exercise. If you ignore this pain and continue to exercise, you’ll feel pain even after exercise. Eventually, the bone may break.
If you feel bad pain due to exercise, cease any activity that causes that pain. Continue, however, to perform those exercises which cause no pain. Apply ice to the injured area for 15 minutes at a time several times a day. Continue to move the joint or extremity to avoid stiffness by stretching gently. You can also use over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory agents.
If your pain is too severe, if there’s massive swelling, or if you experience numbness, tingling, or shooting pain that travels down a limb, you need to see your doctor as soon as possible.