How do you know if the symptoms you are feeling are a concern or normal as you progress through training or returning to your sport?
I see many people struggle with when to stop and seek help vs when to push through or simply adjust your training program. It can be a hard decision to make, especially when you’ve suffered an injury and you fear hurting yourself again.
The first thing to understand and be able to differentiate between is pain and soreness. The symptom you are feeling, is it painful or are you sore?
Pain Vs. Soreness
What is pain? As defined in the Webster’s Dictionary, pain is:
“a localized or generalized unpleasant bodily sensation or complex of sensations that causes mild to severe physical discomfort and emotional distress and typically results from bodily disorder (such as injury or disease)”
“physically tender (as from overuse or injury) : feeling or affected by pain : ACHY; attended by difficulties, hardship, or exertion”
In short, pain results from some sort of disorder whereas soreness can be muscle tenderness from exertion. When we work our muscles through endurance activity or strengthening, there is lactic acid that builds up within the muscles that creates soreness in our muscles. A feeling of soreness can also come from micro-tears in the muscle fibers as you increase resistance.
If you have said to yourself or someone else, “Oh I don’t know if I can physically sit down because my muscles are sore and feel like they are going to give out” or waking up the next day (or 2) after a workout and feeling very stiff, tight, and sore you are most likely feeling soreness from exercise or activity. This feeling is nothing to be worried about and will typically go away in 2-4 days.
If, however, the soreness does not go away or it feels more like something is wrong such as sharp, shooting, radiating, or twinges, then you may need further assessment to determine if there is inflammation, a tear, or damage to a bone, tissue or ligament.
How do I know if I can push through the soreness/pain during exercise or activity?
There is no straight-forward way of knowing if you can push through a pain/soreness unless you have it examined by a Doctor of Physical Therapy or a Medical Doctor. However, generally when you feel a pain initially and it goes away pretty quickly or does not return at all, you are safe to proceed forward with your activity. If the pain:
Lingers or comes and goes frequently,
Causes you to change the way you are moving or
Causes you to stop what you’re doing altogether
you should not return to activity or exercise until you have been examined by a medical professional.
When you are trying to return to your sport, progress to the next level, or enhance your performance and you start to feel a pain, it is recommended to step back from the current level and attempt the level of performance you were at prior and see if the pain persists. For example:
A runner is recovering from an ankle sprain and is pain free with all activities of daily living.
He begins a running training program starting with walking 2 minutes, jogging 1 minute and is able to maintain this pattern for 10 minutes without any problems.
When he progresses to the next step where he is walking 1 minute, jogging 1 minute he notices mild pain that lasts for less than 10 minutes and goes away.
The runner completes the same workout for 3 days and continues to have pain by the end which seems to be increasing.
The runner stops his workouts and reaches out to his physical therapist for advice.
The physical therapist recommends returning to walking 2 minutes, jogging 1 minute up to 20 minutes as long as pain does not return before stepping up to the next level.
The physical therapist will perform an assessment to determine where the pain may be coming from and give you advice on what to do next.
The Success of an Ultra-Runner
An ultra-runner came to me after ankle surgery for persistent ankle pain that was limiting his runs and wanted to return to running and ultras as able. The first and hardest step for him was beginning with light jogging for brief periods and building up tolerance with longer distances using walk-jog-walk intervals. Over time he was able to progress to running marathons and no ankle pain. After returning to ultras for some time, he began to notice stiffness in the ankle and some mild pain by the time he was finished. While assessing him to determine the cause of pain, I noticed limited movement of his left ankle vs his right and some instability when in balanced positions. We took a few weeks to work on these findings and then returned to walk-jog-walk intervals on uneven ground to see if his ankle could tolerate the new motion and increased stability. He was able to progress back to marathons and then ultras over time and maneuver over the uneven ground without pain.
It’s Time to Reach out!
Are you unsure if what you are experiencing with your training program is pain or soreness? Are you worried there might be something more going on? Click the link here to schedule a No-Charge Consultation so that we can discuss what you have going on and what the next best steps are for you.