What is Good Pain?
Very often muscle soreness from a great workout can be confused with pain, when in fact, it is actually a sign that your body is getting stronger and healthier. Muscle soreness is a dull and uncomfortable ache deep in the muscle, whereas pain is very uncomfortable, and a sometimes-sharp sensation in the muscle, joint or bone.
No Pain No Gain
The phrase “no pain no gain” is one that we’re all familiar with. It was invented from the feeling of delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. If you’re experiencing DOMS, congratulations! You are becoming stronger and healthier. DOMS is the good pain you feel from working out and improving performance. It’s a result of micro tears in the muscle, which means your body is adapting to the new exercise load.
How To Decipher DOMS:
- Pain is felt the day after exercise, not during or immediately after.
- Peak intensity is usually felt 2 days post workout and may last anywhere from 1-5 days after exercise.
- Soreness will be in the muscles that were targeted and felt in the muscle belly.
- Pain can occur bilaterally if you were working your body symmetrically
- Normally there shouldn't be pain when you are training but if the pain is felt during exercise it occurs with intensity increase or frequency, or starting exercise after a break. This is more likely to be felt if you have already started a programme that is taxing the muscles leaving them more sensitive.
Activities Known to Cause DOMS:
- Strength training
- Walking down hills
- Step aerobics
Treatment for DOMS
The good news is, when it comes to muscle soreness, there is usually no medical intervention needed. The bad news is, that the only way to make it through is to experience it. You can prevent it by slowly progressing to a new exercise program that allows for adaptation. While your muscles are recovering, it’s recommended to only engage in light activity or refraining from activity altogether. An ice pack, foam rolling or a massage can be helpful in reducing painful symptoms. Some people feel better using a liniment or something similar that produces pleasant sensations to distract you while your body heals.
What is Bad Pain?
Deciphering bad pain isn’t as cut and dry as you may think. While good pain may be uncomfortable, it’s relatively easy to live through. Bad pain is the type that wakes you up in the middle of the night like an unwanted noisy neighbour. If you experience pain due to an injury rather than DOMS, it is more likely to be felt inside the joint rather than the muscle. If there is swelling around the joint, it indicates an injury and not a muscle issue and needs to be addressed. It can be acute or chronic, with generalized discomfort and a sudden onset.
Symptoms of Bad Pain
- Pins, needles, numbness, weakness
- Sharp, sudden onset, or stabbing sensation of pain
- Limited mobility
- Radicular pain – pain that shoots from one area to another, usually progressing down the limb away from the spine
- Pain resulting from a ‘popping’, ‘clicking’, ‘snapping’ or ‘giving way’
- Swelling, heat and redness
- Referred pain - pain that moves and is felt down the limb when a higher area is irritated, usually a dull ache, not as sharp as radicular pain
- Pain that wakes you up in the night
- Constant or unremitting pain
- Any pain that gets worse
Treatment for Injury
Obviously, prevention is the best treatment for painful injury, but if it is too late, treating as early as possible will prove to be the most effective. Don’t try to work through bad pain, it will only prolong recovery and may lead to more serious injury.
Pain is your body’s way of telling you there is a problem that needs to be addressed. You wouldn’t ignore a friend, coworker, spouse, parent, or child’s request for help, so make sure to treat your own body’s request with as much loving care as you do anything else.
When bad pain occurs then it's best to consult with a professional, such as your family doctor or your physiotherapist, to find out what's wrong and what steps you should take to get better.