Each week on Healthy Edge Radio (heard on AM1280 Fox Sports Radio Saturdays at 6AM and rebroadcast Mondays at 8PM) we delve into listener's questions in our 'John H's Gym Bag' segment.
This week a listener asked, "Is it OK to exercise through pain?"
Our guests, Elizabeth van der Horst and Mike Cocquyt participated in answering the question.
Elizabeth, a Reiki Practitioner at M/Body and MMA fighter, shared that she had in fact had worked out through pain. She said that an isolated, piercing pain is probably something that should be heeded and diagnosed before continuing, as she has actually had an experience where she ignored pain only to exacerbate an injury.
Cocquyt, Director at SportsNet and a certified personal trainer, echoed Elizabeth's advice. He says he asks his clients, referring to pain, "is it a dull sword or sharp knife?" Mike observed that people use the term 'pain' to refer to everything from a pump in the muscles and burn in the lungs, which are 'good' pains and the 'piercing' isolated pain of injury. Having a working relationship with a qualified personal trainer can help you in determining the difference and Mike also suggested seeing a chiropractor on a regular basis as a proactive measure just to see that everything is working right as a preventative measure.
I added that people should consult proper medical professionals for diagnosis of your serious aches and pains. Many times we try to get information from friends, gym mates or underqualified trainers to determine corrective course, when they should be seeing a doctor. So, working through pain can be OK if it could be classified as 'discomfort' or 'soreness' but when it crosses over to 'piercing' or 'shearing' stop exercising and seek professional advice.
Here’s a Healthy Edge guide to the levels of pain you may be experiencing, along with some guidance as to whether to ‘work through’ it, rest or seek treatment.
1. Soreness – this is common and most usually presents as a general soreness and/or stiffness in the muscles. When you exert force against weights (your bodyweight, machines or weights) you actually cause ‘microtrauma’ to your muscle fibers. Don’t be alarmed, this is how it works. Little filaments/fibers ‘snap’ under the resistance of the weight and the body’s natural response to that is to ‘re-build’ which leads to stronger, denser muscle fibers. The misconception that women will get big bulky muscles ignores the fact that women have a different hormonal system and without the testosterone of the men, will instead experience the sculpted muscle that is still feminine. But back to the soreness…generally speaking, that type of soreness can be worked through and will usually dissipate after a 5-10 minute warmup and some lighter repetitions as you get into the workout. If it doesn’t, it has probably crossed over to pain.
2. Pain – think ‘abrupt’ ‘sharp’ or sudden sensations of a higher intensity that eminates from a joint, bone or nerve point when classifying discomfort as ‘pain’. Pain is usually an indication that something is wrong. If you can’t relieve ‘pain’ with a warm-up and some type of light movement, you may want to stop doing that movement for that workout and rest it. Additionally, you can ice the area where pain originates and IF you have taken pain-reliever in the past (I’m not a doctor, nor can prescribe it) that may help alleviate pain in the short term and relieve inflammation. If pain persists more than a day or two, you probably want to ask a medical professional for advice on further diagnosis and treatment. Keep in mind that soreness can last for several days…just in case you are tempted to call soreness pain…again soreness mostly comes from muscle trauma…and it can be intense!
3. Overtraining - sometimes we think in life, “if this much is ‘good’…then more should be better!” With exercise, that isn’t always the case. In some cases, repeatedly engaging in a volume of training that you aren’t properly conditioned for can lead to what is known as ‘overtraining.’ If you are experiencing restless sleep, prolonged soreness or just a general lethargy, you may be overtraining. Be sure that you are drinking plenty of water, consider taking a Branched Chain Amino Acid supplement to replenish those nutrients that are important to your recovery and take a day off from weight training if this occurs. It should correct itself quickly and isn’t anything to cause concern, of course if symptoms persist, contact your health professional.
4. Injury – this speaks for itself. Swelling or intense pain that occurs suddenly could mean that you have suffered an injury. RICE, which is an acronym for rest, ice, compression and elevation is a good course of action until you can get into see your doctor or urgent care. *more health professionals are actually recommending NOT to ice injured area to speed recovery, check with your trusted health professional for her/his advice.
It’s not worth risking long term problems for a weight loss or training program, if you can work around it, focus on other training or body parts and give your body the time is needs to recover. Make no mistake, you have to be mentally tough to workout to a level of effort sufficient to make significant changes in your body. It takes some courage and fortitude to push yourself that hard…there’s a reason that everyone isn’t walking around in the best shape of their lives…it’s HARD! That isn’t to discourage you, it’s to challenge you to rise up and make the changes that you want to make..but I also want you to be smart. Use the information above as a guide as you progress with your fitness levels. It’s a fine line between pushing yourself up to the ‘line’ or over the ‘line’ and everyonce in a while you cross it. Determine from the above descriptions what it is, make a plan and get back to it as soon as possible…