In last month’s blog I briefly touched on injury as a reason some stop working out and therefore don’t get fit. In another blog I spoke about learning how to rehabilitate your injuries by learning muscle groups and learning which exercises help to heal. I was trying to decide on this blog post and wondered if injuries were overdone. Yet in the last two weeks I’ve spoken to a number of people who have told me about some serious injuries and decided one more time probably wouldn’t be enough. Seems no one is immune to injury and not everyone knows what to do when faced with one. Push through? Rest and recover? As I am not a doctor there is a limited scope on which I can touch without crossing the line into one of those “experts” spewing fallacies with nothing to back them up. What I can tell you is what I have learned about recognizing the beginning of injury and the consequences of ignoring the warning signs.
The word injury is a broad term but is commonly a result of some action or movement. Usually it is a dysfunctional movement such as an attempt to move too much weight or two objects with mass attempting to occupy the same space at the same time. Over stretching or pushing your range too far is another avenue to serious damage. Injuries can vary in severity from ‘take an analgesic and call me in the morning’ all the way to the need for corrective surgery. Naturally we want to avoid this as much as possible and upon incident minimize the damage.
As a college student I learned a lot about fitness that most people will never know. Hint: this is why you hire a fitness expert. But I digress. I’ve spoken before about rehabilitating my own injuries and you would think with all the information I have swimming around in my head, I would know enough not to get injured, so I wouldn’t need rehabilitation in the first place. But you would be wrong. I am guilty of all the injury causing behaviors I caution against including pushing myself too far when I knew I could cause serious injury.
It isn’t just pushing too far that is a problem though of course that is a major issue. People with the attitude of “play with pain” are doing themselves no favors. But well-meaning unaware people also push too far for a different reason. They have not yet learned to listen to their body. That pop you felt in your shoulder on decline press? Yes, that did mean something. If you continue to ignore it figuring it wasn’t that major because you are able to still perform the exercise with no acute pain, you could be doing damage that will turn into injury. Left untreated that injury could worsen in severity, in extreme cases surgery may be required. I am also guilty of this and learned the hard way that it is better to stop and perform corrective strengthening exercises than continue the course causing more damage.
Listen to your body
Upon the first twinge of unusual pain the best course of action is to increase your level of awareness of the area. Whatever you are doing at the time take a moment to notice how you are moving and if what you are doing is making it better, worse or not effecting it at all. Many times when lifting people have a magic number (of repetitions) in mind they are fixed on performing per set. This is great but pushing through to reach an arbitrary number could do more damage. Remember the worse the damage the longer time in rehab. There is a big difference between delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) and injury soreness. Feeling site located pain (pain that is only in one hip vs both, one shoulder but not the other) is an indication you are dealing with more than the post workout teardown and repair of muscles.
The old adage R.I.C.E. is still valid today. Upon instant injury stopping activity as soon as possible is best. Please do not continue your set because you have not completed your reps. Doing so could cause further damage that could have been avoided if you stopped right away. When the body is injured there is strong possibility of inflammation at the site. Ice will help reduce the inflammation and swelling which puts pressure on the site causing pain. Twenty minutes of ice followed by ice off for the first day after injury. Compression and elevation also reduce swelling, elevation by controlling blood flow. Compression not only helps to reduce the swelling but sometimes can ease pain as well. Be sure the compression is not too tight, your skin should maintain its normal color. Continued REST will be necessary for at least as long as pain is felt on a regular basis. Once pain has subsided strengthening the site of injury along with heightened awareness of movement will help avoid further injury.
All of that is of course assuming you hurt yourself and know that instant you have caused injury. Sometimes you wake up sore. Aching muscles are the usually result of DOMS and nothing to really worry about. The soreness is due to the tear down and rebuilding process of resistance training and is perfectly normal. Soreness that is persistent, acute and/or only in one side of the body when both sides were equally worked suggests a possible injury. If this is the case it could be your sleeping position or it could be a more serious injury that will require rehab. The problem in waking with the soreness—instead of it happening during the workout or as a result of an accident—is you may not be sure exactly which movement caused the injury. This leaves you in a vulnerable position and it is absolutely necessary to not only strengthen muscles around the injured site but not repeat the dysfunctional motion that caused the injury. If you don’t know what caused the injury you must carefully explore your movements to learn what is okay for your body and what is not. This may require stopping all exercises and gradually adding them back in one at a time to determine which could be causing issue.
If it hurts you’re doing something wrong
The only thing worse than not knowing what caused an injury is blaming injury on the wrong exercise and actually continuing the movement that did cause the injury. I once thought that a back bend pose held too long was the culprit of much of my shoulder issues. After strengthening the shoulder so it didn’t hurt any more I gradually became more confident in trying the position again. I believed that if I just listened to my body I would not hold the position too long again and would be okay. After all no one else that I knew had a problem with this pose. To date I have not had a problem with it at all. Imagine my shock and surprise one day to wake up a couple days after teaching class to realize my shoulder was killing me! I hadn’t done that move that week so what gives? Now I had to go back and review my class plan for the day and consider all the movements made. After narrowing it down to the move I never do on my own but frequently teach in class I finally identified the move that may not have caused the original injury but almost always exacerbated it.
If I had been listening to my body all along I may have been able to avoid the cycle of injure, rehab, reinjure. Maybe I didn’t truly want to hear what my body was saying to me. I thought it would mean giving up something I loved. I ignored what my body was telling me and continued to teach a dangerous move. At best I only continued to reinjure myself and at worse I could have lead someone else down a path to injuring themselves. I can only hope my students were better at heeding my advice to listen to their bodies than I was.
If you are new to exercising and the way it makes you feel during and after let me be clear, exercise should not hurt. Done correctly exercise will tire you, make you sore, may be exhausting and not very fun at the time (depending on your chosen mode of fitness) but it should not leave you hurt and in pain. You should not feel worse after a workout than before you started your session. You may feel “the burn”, already sore, and fatigued but you definitely should not have shooting pains or aches that last for days. Slow down. Rushing or trying to make things happen too quickly is a recipe for pain. Intensity is good and necessary, pain is not.