They say that pain is weakness leaving the body. And sure, some soreness is to be expected when you’re working out. But when pain is severe or persistent, that’s no longer “weakness leaving the body.” It’s cause for concern.
How can you know whether that ache you’re feeling is normal? When should you worry about pain?
Pain vs. Soreness
Anyone who works out regularly often feels some occasional discomfort. Sore muscles and achy joints, unfortunately, come along with exercise.
But that after-exercise discomfort should be more of a soreness, or a “good pain” that indicates your body is fatigued from working out or healing from an intense lifting session. Soreness is mild pain that might start during or shortly after your workout, but generally goes away in a couple of days.
Pain, on the other hand, is often the result of an injury. It might worsen during exercise and/or persist long after your workout ends. Pain isn’t the same as occasional soreness. It can be debilitating, and if ignored, that pain is likely to get worse.
Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Think of it as your body’s hazard lights, letting you know that you need to slow down, pull over, and seek professional help.
5 Pain Symptoms You Should Never Ignore
Sometimes, we can work through the pain. Many times, that discomfort goes away on its own. A few ibuprofen, an ice pack, and voila! Good as new.
But there are some cases where pain indicates a more severe issue. When any of these 5 symptoms accompany your pain, don’t ignore them.
1. Intense Pain
The intensity of pain usually correlates with the seriousness of the injury. If the pain is mild, say a two on the 1-10 pain scale, you likely don’t need to worry. But intense burning, aching, or stabbing pain – the kind of pain that stops you in your tracks and prevents you from carrying on your daily tasks – shouldn’t be ignored.
Don’t try to fight through the agony. Medical professionals can identify the underlying cause and (hopefully) provide relief.
If the pain is so intense that it causes vomiting or nausea, do not wait. Contact your doctor or visit your local medical clinic immediately.
2. Changes in Range of Motion
Anything that impedes your normal range of motion should be a warning sign that something more serious is going on. If you find yourself avoiding movement of a specific body part, notice changes in your range of motion, or can’t move without sharp pain, that’s a clear indication that something is wrong.
3. Bruising or Swelling
Some bruising is normal (I’m looking at you, barbell bruises on my thighs). But severe bruising, especially accompanied with sharp and acute pain, could be cause for concern.
Similarly, swelling is your body’s way of isolating and healing an injury. If you feel pain and also notice localized swelling, that’s a sign that something is amiss.
If you have bruising and swelling without intense pain, you can always try the “RICE” method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to reduce swelling and control the discomfort from home. But if the swelling and/or bruising persist, it’s probably time to call in the experts.
4. Previous Injury or Surgery Site Pain
It’s not uncommon to have discomfort at the site of a previous injury or surgery. However, moderate to severe pain shouldn’t be ignored, especially if it comes on suddenly. It could be something unrelated to your previous injury or surgery, but it could also mean something hasn’t healed properly.
Any time you have pain at the site of a known injury or previous surgery, it’s best to get it checked out.
5. Persistent or Constant
We all feel pain from time to time. And those of us of a certain age (ahem) feel pain more and more often as the years go by. But most sore muscles and achy joints go away rather quickly. Sure, those stairs feel like torture after leg day, and your biceps are on fire for a day or two after pull-ups. That’s normal. That’s why we have recovery days.
What isn’t normal is if that pain is constant and/or persistent. If your bicep is still burning a week after you did the pull-ups, that’s a red flag. Pay attention to your pain. If it’s not getting better – or if it’s constant all day, every day – it could mean you have something more serious going on.
It’s tempting to ignore our aches and push through the pain. It’s not easy to take time out of our busy schedules to address our physical discomfort. But discounting the pain won’t make it go away. In fact, it could make it worse.
If you have any concerns about your aches and pains, reach out to your doctor.