Pain is a funny thing. For personal trainers, we have been taught that when a client feels pain it is a red flag. Stop what you are doing and send the client to a doctor. But pain is not always that simple. First, everyone perceives it differently. I’ve had clients that, after a few reps of an exercise, said that it hurts. ? OK, do I stop and send them to a doctor? Well, I do stop. But then we talk about what they are really experiencing. Where does it hurt? In the joint? In the muscle? OK, it’s in the muscle. What does that feel like? Is it sharp or stabbing? Is it dull or achey? Is it tension and fatigue? You’d be surprised how many people are unused to feeling muscle fatigue and report that as pain. I’ve also had clients that would tell me that their backs hurt when they did abdominal crunches (back when I used to have them do crunches). We’d discuss what they were sensing and determine that they were feeling a stretch tension in their lower back. This was neither harmful nor uncommon as one of the limiting factors in how high someone could crunch was the flexibility of the low back.
My point here is not to support the common declarations of “No pain, no gain.” or “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Rather, I bring this up to make you aware that there are many sensations when you are working out that are often lumped into the pain category and to take a moment and analyze what you are really feeling.
“Pain”, like Baskin-Robbins ice cream, comes in many flavors and depending on the flavor and where it is located, can help you understand its severity. First, let me say that joint pain is always more concerning than a muscular pain. With muscles, you can feel a burning fatigue, stretch tension, acheyness, soreness, cramping, etc. All of which are really more discomfort and, while not pleasant, they are not that concerning. A tearing feeling or pop, on the other hand, you had better pay attention to (stop what you’re doing and see your doctor). Joint pain should rarely be ignored. If you have diagnosed arthritis or are just stiff and achey, maybe you can keep on keeping on. However, if you feel a sharp, stabbing sensation, a radiating pain, or even a strong ache in a joint, it is cause to stop what you are doing and seek medical attention. Joint issues can be very serious and should be addressed before returning to activity.
Backtracking a little, if there is any chronic pain that you are experiencing, no matter what flavor, you should see your doctor. It’s always better to know what you’re dealing with. The diagnosis will let you make an informed decision as to what you can safely do or not do.
So, while some discomfort is expected in a fitness program, being able to discern between what might be considered normal and what is potentially a real injury, is important in keeping your body healthy. Listen to your body and get to know your flavors.