We’ve all heard the following at the gym: “Feel the burn. No pain, no gain.” With fitness incentives like these, it’s no wonder that many people think that gritting their teeth through workouts is to be anticipated. “It’s true that feeling a little sore after exercise is a good thing,” says Jessica Matthews, an assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego and senior advisor of health and fitness education at the American Council on Exercise. “It means your muscles are getting stronger.” But Matthews warns that certain types of pain can signal a problem, such as an overuse injury. The key is telling the difference. As compiled from Reader’s Digest and men’s Fitness magazines, here’s a list of things that will help you determine if your workout is doing your body more harm than good.
Your muscles shake like crazy
A little thigh twitch after four sets of squats makes sense but constant muscle vibrations and twitches are not normal. “Some quaking isn’t cause for concern,” says Matthews. If your arms start pulsating at a 7.0 on the Richter scale or start to give out, that’s a clear sign of muscle failure. Not only do you run the risk of dropping a weight on your foot or falling, but you’re setting the stage for damage. “When you’re too fatigued, you won’t be able to maintain proper form during an exercise,” says Matthews. “That can lead to a muscle strain or tear.” If you feel you’re experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms, take a break from working out immediately and stick to mild walking till your muscles recuperate.
You experience a sudden, sharp or radiating pain
You can expect a general, growing ache in your muscles — that’s a sign your workout is challenging — and that is acceptable. But an intense biting pain that appears quickly after a certain exercise or plyometrics move indicates that something’s not quite right and that you should stop immediately. “Don’t try to push through the movement,” says Moira McCarthy, MD, an orthopedic surgeon specialising in sports medicine at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “That can lead to a muscle or joint injury.” Most of us like to push through the pain in efforts of growing stronger and leaner — bad idea!
After that jog, your foot, shin or knee looks a little swollen
Redness, swelling, or persistent pain suggests an overuse issue, such as runner’s knee or a shin splints. “Take it easy for a few days,” says McCarthy. You may need to spend more time warming up and stretching before pounding the pavement. But if it continues to hurt with each run, you may need to see a physical therapist. She can help you correct your form and strengthen any areas that may leave you susceptible to injuries. If you continue your workouts despite the pain, you might end up with compartment syndrome, which is another excruciatingly painful condition caused by overuse injuries.
That workout was 3 days ago — and you’re still sore
You went hard in the weight room, and it still hurts to climb the stairs. Some stiffness is expected: Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is caused by tiny tears in the tissue, and when your body repairs those tears, it rebuilds your muscles stronger. But DOMS should resolve within 24 to 48 hours. If it doesn’t, says Matthews, “it means that you pushed yourself too far, too soon.” Wait until your muscles heal and the pain disappears before heading to the gym again. “If you try to exercise with a limited range of motion, you may wind up favouring one side or compromising the movement,” says Matthews. “Over time, that can lead to an acute injury.”
Your shoulder or hip gripes during a lift or press
Having pain with one certain type of movement is a sign that something’s wrong, says McCarthy. If the pain is sharp, have an orthopedic specialist check it out before hitting the gym again. If the pain isn’t too bad, she recommends you take time to better prepare for your workouts. “Make sure that you’re warming up and stretching properly, and hydrating during exercise,” she says. You may need to bring exercise back to the basics. “Don’t try to keep up with others,” says McCarthy. Try lighter weights, slow your movements, and pay close attention to your form. And always remember, you’re not at the gym to compete with others — you’re there to better yourself physically, and that won’t be possible if you continuously injure yourself due to inadequate rest and improper form.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2016.