Pain with exercise…is it OK?

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Do you experience pain during exercise? Do you operate from the “no pain, no gain” mentality? Do you have an old injury that tends to reappear and never seems to go away no matter what you try?

In my 20 years as a personal trainer and movement therapist, I have had many clients come to me that experience pain with movement and exercise. In many cases, they try to address this chronic pain with anti-inflammatories, pain- killers, and/or bodywork; only to find that it eventually returns. This blog is about what I’ve learned about working with pain in the body….what is normal, what is not, and how you might be able to find lasting relief.

First, it is important to decipher between “discomfort” and “pain” in the body:

  • The sensation of muscular discomfort is part of exercise training and is an indication that your workout is pushing you to improve your cardiovascular and/ or muscular capacity. The discomfort of delayed onset muscle soreness typically occurs in the 24- 48 hours following a workout and is normal. This soreness should only last no more than three days and is only felt in the muscles; not the joints or tendons. If it lasts longer than three days and inhibits movement in daily life, this is an indication that the workout may have been too intense for the general population; athletes are an exception here.
  • The sensation of pain is the body’s primary warning signal that lets us know that there is a problem. It tends to come on suddenly and can be sharp, intense, shooting, aching or irritating. The pain could be in a muscle, joint, or deep in the bone. It tends to quickly catch our attention immediately- because we are meant to listen and act on any feelings of pain!

Exercise should not cause pain! If it does, you should back off or stop the activity until the pain subsides. This seems like common sense, but many times I see people ignore pain, work through pain, and try to justify their pain (using the excuse that “I’m getting old, that’s why my _____ hurts”). The challenge with this mindset is that the odds of developing an injury increase the longer you exercise thru pain. The nervous system of the body is programed to help us avoid pain; this means that when we continue to use an injured area when pain is present- there is increased potential for joint and soft tissue damage. In this situation, compensation in movement patterns occur to help avoid further injury to the area; as your brain tries to figure out a better way to move in a way that avoids putting stress on the injured area. Notice how quickly you start limping when you twist your ankle! This is a great example of a compensation pattern.

We exercise to feel better and move better, but what if your exercise is the cause of your pain? This is where the idea of “exercise- induced injuries” comes into play; improper form and misalignment of the joints with exercise can lead to pain and injury; whereas, proper alignment decreases strain on the joints and soft tissue- decreasing the opportunity for pain and injury. This is a fundamental component of my work with clients; by educating them on the specifics of alignment- they gain an awareness that they can take into life and sport; they learn how to keep their bodies safe with movement and learn how to live without pain.

Understanding the concept of exercise progression is also important to prevent a recurrence of pain and injury. Learning how much movement and what type is ideal can be a challenge for people to figure out on their own. The tendency is to start out with movement that is too intense after healing the injury, which lends itself to a recurrence of the injury. This is also a fundamental component of my work with clients; I teach proper exercise progression, selection, and intensity.

By honoring the body and not exercising thru pain, learning proper form and alignment, and proper exercise selection and progression we can begin to create a safe and effective exercise program to improve quality of movement and quality of life.

If you are interested in setting up an exercise program to help you address your chronic pain and old injuries contact me today to set up your complimentary consultation.

To improve posture and decrease your chance for pain in injury in life and in sport, experience one of my ELDOA classes.

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