What is normal post-workout pain and when is it cause for concern? Learn what aches and pains should not be ignored while you’re breaking a sweat.
We all know exercise is a key to living a healthy lifestyle. And whether it’s parking in the farthest spot or taking the stairs, or something more vigorous like a gym class, physical activity can sometimes cause soreness. It’s important to know the difference between post-workout discomfort and the pain of an injury. We asked Dr. Casey Keating, Renown Medical Group – Physiatry, to explain more.
What signs should exercisers watch out for?
Muscle soreness during exercise should be pretty mild and can happen especially when starting a new exercise. Soreness should be minimal during the exercise itself, but it can slowly progress and get worse the next day when you wake up and even on day two and three following an activity.
It’s important to differentiate between pain and discomfort when working up a sweat. Pain that’s more than normal might happen very acutely when you’re exercising. You might feel a severe pain immediately. There could be swelling around that particular joint, bruising, or worse, you might not be able to put any weight on it.
What kind of post-workout pain means it’s time to see your care provider?
There are a few common injuries that should be evaluated by your care provider:
Back pain: When people are in the gym doing an activity like dead lifts or squats, they might feel pain immediately in their back. It might be just in your back, or you might feel a shooting pain that goes down your legs. If either happens, these are pretty typical presentations of a disk herniation. You should see your care provider and we can individualize a treatment to your particular problem.
Shoulder injuries: Sometimes an injury to the shoulder may cause pain when moving or cause weakness within the shoulder itself. This can happen with or without trauma. If you have a decrease in range of motion within your shoulder, you should definitely see a provider and possibly a specialist. Sometimes the treatment can be done without surgery.
Numbness in the hands: Many things can cause numbness in the hands, including sports injuries, nerve compression or even general medical conditions. The evaluation and management of hand numbness can be challenging and you should see a specialist, such as a physiatrist.
Knee injuries: Knee pain is another common injury. For any acute injury with the knee, if you see any swelling around your knee and if you have difficulty walking, see a medical professional immediately. It could be something more severe. If it’s just a knee contusion or if you bump your knee against something and you can still walk on it and there’s no swelling, you might just want to make a regular appointment with your primary care provider. If the knee pain is a chronic issue, there are many good treatments available.
Ankle injuries: This injury is common among basketball players or somebody at the gym doing a new workout. If you have an ankle injury, you might have some swelling around the ankle and it might be difficult to put weight on it. And if you can’t put any weight on it at all and you can’t walk, that’s something you should see a care provider immediately for.
What kind of care does a physiatrist provide?
Physiatry aims to restore functional ability and quality of life to those with physical impairments affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons. Physiatrists have completed training in this area and are different because instead of a focus on a cure, we have the goal of maximizing patients’ independence in activities of daily living and improving quality of life. We design comprehensive, patient-centered treatment plans, and use new and time-tested treatments to maximize function and quality of life for patients.
Physiatrists don’t perform surgery, but have many procedural opportunities for diagnosis and treatment. I see a lot of patients with back pain. A treatment I like to use for back pain is one of the image guided procedures available, which are being used as a nonsurgical, pain-relieving intervention.
What advice can you offer someone who wants to get back into working out?
It’s important to begin a program safely and slowly. If it’s been a while, don’t be afraid to get a certified personal trainer. They can ease you back into the game.
Also, if you have previous injuries, see your primary care provider prior to starting a new exercise program.
And finally, be patient. One thing I see commonly is people who return to the gym and want to do everything in one day. It’s okay to ease into it. It’s not about how fast you get there, it’s about where you are at the end of your journey.