When you exercise, you need to listen carefully to your body so that you can properly classify any pain. (Image: djile / stock.adobe.com)
What does pain during exercise mean
“No Pain, No Gain” is an English proverb, which means “no gain without pain”. What is behind this wisdom? Is there good pain? Especially when playing sports, you have to interpret pain correctly. A sports doctor explains different types of pain.
Strength and endurance sports challenge the body. With regular training, it improves our performance. To do this, athletes push their physical limits in order to expand them where possible. This process is often accompanied by a certain sensation of pain. If these limits are clearly exceeded or if they are maximized for too long, injury will result. When should you fight pain and when should you listen to your body?
Some level of pain is acceptable
Dr. Dominic King is an athletic physician at the renowned Cleveland Clinic in the United States. In a recent article, the doctor explains the pain during exercise. “A certain amount of pain is okay, but you shouldn’t ignore the pain during exercise,” explains the specialist. If the pain worsens or does not improve, the exercises should be stopped and a doctor should be consulted.
What is a “good” pain?
According to Dr. King, there is actually “good pain”. The slight burning or tingling sensation in the muscles after exercise, known as sore muscles, is often due to slight inflammation or micro-tears in the muscles or tendons. Qualified training can also increase the amount of lactic acid in the muscles. This type of pain is usually harmless. The muscle will repair these cracks during the recovery phase. Muscles gain strength and size. Microtrauma caused by training is a natural physical reaction that stimulates muscle growth. Such pain should always go away on its own after a few days.
Delayed sore muscles
Often, sore muscles do not appear immediately, but only a few days after exercise. This often happens during new or unfamiliar physical activities that involve contracting and lengthening muscles at the same time, such as climbing stairs or hiking in the mountains.
Can sore muscles be shortened?
“Unfortunately, there is currently no treatment that shortens the time that muscles are sore and weak after training,” adds Dr. Mark S. Schickendantz, athletic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. Hot and cold compresses can help temporarily relieve pain.
Should I train with sore muscles?
According to sports medicine experts, this answer is a bit tricky and depends on the situation. There is nothing to be said against a light workout with little pain. Sometimes, certain physical activities can even relieve pain. But you shouldn’t overdo it. “There is only a fine line between building muscle and injury,” warns Dr. Roi. With moderate and severe muscle pain, you have to wait with intense exercise until the pain has subsided.
What to do if the pain is severe or persistent
If the pain is severe, persistent, or sudden, it indicates an injury. This can be the result of a single or repeated overloading of a muscle or tendon, for example. “This is a signal that you are putting too much strain on a muscle or a tendon,” said Dr. Roi. In this case, he advises you to stop. It is also important to ensure that there is no more serious injury hidden behind the pain, adds Dr. Schickendantz. The following pain should be clarified immediately by a doctor:
Sudden sharp pain, sharp pain that restricts movement, pain in a recently operated or injured area, pain related to a massive deformity or swelling, pain that does not go away after several days, pain that increases and worsens, tenderness associated with bruising, pain associated with nausea and vomiting, pain associated with fever and chills, pain that makes it difficult to fall asleep and maintain sleep.
Rest is the cornerstone of treating sore muscles
“The cornerstone of treating sore muscles is rest,” says Dr. Roi. Stretching before and after a workout, as well as maintaining good hydration, can help prevent muscle pain. But the absolute best way is to start low and increase slowly, advises the sports doctor. Recurrent exercise-related pain is often due to incorrect exercise, poor posture, or incorrect technique. Therefore, the exercises should ideally be followed by an experienced trainer. This helps prevent injury. This is especially recommended for people who have had frequent sports injuries in the past. (v)
Author and source information
This text complies with the requirements of specialized medical literature, medical directives and ongoing studies and has been verified by healthcare professionals.
Graduate Editor (FH) Volker Blasek
Cleveland Clinic: Is there such a thing as “good pain” and when should you listen to your body? (published: October 9, 2020), health.clevelandclinic.org
This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. It cannot replace a visit to the doctor.